In a game that felt like it should have been being played in 1951 instead of 2021, the Minnesota Vikings were able to hit a game winning field goal (read that again) to beat the Detriot Lions 19-17 at US Bank Stadium.

Before the game, the clouds that hung over the Twin Cities from the storms before were still out casting shadows over US Bank Stadium. There were clouds inside of the stadium as well, the Vikings were losers of three of their last four games and looked lethargic against Cleveland a week prior. Whispers about Mike Zimmer’s job security had turned into legitimate questions about if Zimmer would have a job at the end of the day.  

On one screen, the end of the NFL London game between the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons was wrapping up. The last time the Minnesota played overseas it ended in a victory – but Vikings in London don’t always have a happy ending.

Dalvin Cook was ruled out with a knee injury hours before the game. It’s the same injury that has hampered him through the past few weeks, meaning Mattison was going to be the guy in the backfield. I’ve written about this in the past but the drop off between the two is getting to be less and less. In today’s game, Mattison had 25 carries for 113 yards. 

Mattison is two years younger, and almost four million dollars cheaper. Granted, Cook has produced more yards per carry and I don’t think anyone would say that Mattison should permanently take this role as RB1- but just something to keep an eye on. 

Back from injury was Anthony Barr, who had missed 18 straight games. Barr joins the “Big Names, Small Stats” defense that Zimmer has been trying to solve  all year. The addition of Barr added another wrinkle which helped the Vikings in this one. 

Detroit Lions started with the ball after the Vikings won the toss and deferred.. This was the first time the Vikings were getting to see new Head Coach Dan Campbell and starting QB Jared Goff. The last time Goff faced the Vikings was in 2018 on Thursday Night Football.  Goff and the Los Angeles Rams would end up playing in the Super Bowl that season and Goff would set career passing marks with 465 yards and five TDs against a Vikings defense that was much better than any defense Minnesota has put on the field since. 

In the offseason, Goff was traded for franchise cornerstone (and Vikings killer) Matthew Stafford. Goff always reminded me of a poor mans Kirk Cousins, so I was happy that on one more pass attempt- Goff still underperformed versus Cousins. Goff ended the day with 203 yards, and interception and more check downs than any opposing QB this season.

The Lions were able to drive down the field with running backs Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift. The Lions have a history of good backs, and while Swift will never be Sanders, I do think the Lions have the building blocks for something special. Detroit was able to get on the scoreboard first with a 39 yard field with 10:34 minutes left in the first to make it 3-0 Lions.

 

The Vikings in back to back weeks looked great on their first possession then never looked that good again. Maybe it has something to do with opposing defense trying to get a feel, or maybe the play script before the game is better than the play script during the game. Either way, on the first Vikings’ drive, Cousins and Justin Jefferson were able to connect for a long gain. The ball fluttered in the air for what felt like forever, before finally landing in the arms of the Jefferson.

I think the difference between Cousins and quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees (ok there are a lot of differences) but one that I’ve noticed watching in person is that Cousins will go to a WR or TE after they’ve dropped a pass. Other all time great won’t even look guys way if they drop a pass. Cousins will continue to go to guys like DeeDee Westbrook Tyler Conklin. 

Jefferson’s off season was hitting the books, because in the three game home stand you can tell that his rout running has improved. Going from LSU to Minnesota, the difference in his ability to make a first move and get by his defender is important. With 6:30 left in the first quarter, the Vikings were able to tie it up to make it 3-3.

 

On the kickoff, the Lions took over at their own 25. Anthony Barr was able to make his first tackle of the season. I bought an Anthony Barr jersey a few years ago- I bought it right after he drove Green Bay Packers’ Quarterback Aaron Rodgers into the ground, breaking his shoulder and subsequently ending the Packers season. Do I root for injuries? No, never. Was I impressed by Barr being able to end a rival’s season in one play? You betcha. It’s hanging in my closet, might have to pull it out. 

 

Everson Griffen made his presence known early in this game, finishing four tackels and two sacks including a forced fumble that gave the Vikings the ball back in a prime position. Griffen’s use of the spin move and just using his size to abuse Sewell showed the veteran move. After one quarter, the Vikings and Lions were tied at 3 apiece.

The difference between the first and second half and the involvement of Jefferson is going to be a conversation for the next few days. Jefferson was able to get 100+ yards on just five catches in the first half, but in the second half he was only targeted a handful of time. The other head scratcher was the use of Thielen, who would almost be considered a decoy rather than a legit target. Joseph connected for a 38 yard field goal with 9:50 left in the half to give Minnesota a 6-3 lead. 

After a Lions punt, the Vikings got the ball on their own 12. After a roughing the passer put the Vikings into Detroit’s red zone, Mattison was able to score a touchdown. In the backfield, Mattison caught a pass across the middle and got the push from the offensive line to make it 13-3 with 2:20 left in the half. 

Coming out of the tow minute warning, the Lions were fighting to get into field goal range. This was the first time all game that you could see the difference between Goff and Cousins. I’m not a big fan of Cousins, but he has an arm and can make some plays. While his decision making (especially in third and long) is questionable, but he’s by no means a “bad” quarterback. Goff has a limp noodle for an arm, leading to some of the worst throws I’ve seen an opposing player make in US Bank stadium. The Lions connected on a 52 yard field goal to make it 13-6 with 41 seconds. 

This is where things in the stadium got interesting, and even the FOX broadcast had things to say, about the end of the half play calling. With 37 seconds and the ball on their own 19, the Vikings ran two plays back to back with Mattison to end the half. Fans in the stadium immediately began booing the offense and the team as they ran off the field leading 13-6 at the half.

To start the second half, the Vikings ran the same conservative play call. Sack-Run-short pass-punt, which has been the recipe for a loss since the beginning of time. And it didn’t get much better. The majority of the second half was both teams punting back and fourth. In total, both teams combined for six punts, two interceptions, a fumble and a turnover on downs.

There were two highlight plays in the second half, one of them coming with 10:08 left in the third quarter. With the Lions driving, Goff dropped back on second and six looking for Khdarel Hodges. Linebacker Eric Kendricks had other plans, making one of the most athletics plays I’ve ever seen a professional linebacker make. The one handed interception will play when the Vikings put Kendricks in the Ring of Honor one day.

The Vikings took their seven point lead into the fourth quarter. The Lions were without their two best defensive backs, so the questions were coming in about why the Vikings refused to challenge the backups on the field more. Minnesota refused for the majority of the second half to take any shots down field and only put themselves in third and long situations. It was very conservative play calling.

With 4:58 left in the game, the Vikings were able to add to their lead when Greg Joseph was able to hit a 55 yard field goal. Of course, it needs to be reminded that the Vikings had a chance last week to attempted a 56 yarder (in the same building) to take a 10-0 lead before halftime against Cleveland. They didn’t and lost 14-7.

Even though the play calling was a tad more aggressive in this one situation, some things don’t change. The secondary for Minnesota still is the worst part of the defense. While the front of Griffin, Barr, Daniel Hunter all are able to get pressure- the secondary is a disaster. I’ve seen Bashaud Breeland get run over more times than an old hat on the highway. 

With 2:30 left, the Lions were able to cut the lead back down to seven after six play, 39 yard drive that was highlighted by the 40 yard kick to make it 16-9.

The Vikings did their best to lose the game. After the ensuing kick, the Vikings took over at their own 18. This is a situation where smart clock management, play calling and players separate a winning team from a losing one. Coming out of the two minute warning, Mattison made sure that he would not be taking over Cook’s job anytime soon when he fumbled on a third and seven attempt giving Detroit their best field position of the day.

With the ball at the Vikings 20, the Lions were able to score quickly taking just a little over a minute off the clock and cutting the lead to one with a seven yard touchdown run by Swift to make it 16-15 Vikings.

The unofficial rule of sports, no matter what level, is “Play to tie at home and win on the road.” It’s been passed down since the days of Abner Doubleday and every manager and coach since has stuck with it. Dan Campbell is a football guy through and through and with 37 seconds left, the Lions lined up for two, converting in the back of the end zone and taking the lead for the first time since the first quarter.

Backs against the wall, and with under a minute left, the Vikings had an unlikely hero. This game is a funny one. Sometimes when you least expect it, it gives you a gift. For Viking fans who have been kicked in the head Sunday after Sunday for the majority of their lives- many times that gift is a cruel one. Today however, that gift was a field goal kicker who could stand the pressure.

Taking over at their own 18, Kirk Cousins was able to lead a drive down the field, hitting Thielen twice and setting up the 54 yard field goal. Earlier in the quarter, Joseph missed a 49 yard kick…short. Still trying to figure that one out.

From the Viking’s 36, Cousins spiked it to kill the clock at 3 seconds. Joseph made his way onto the field. Joseph missed a chip shot earlier in the season to have the Vikings leave Arizona losers- now in front of a loud crowd the game rested on his foot.

The win pushed the Vikings to 2-3 with the 3-2 Carolina Panthers on the schedule for next week at noon. The game will be the first time the Vikings will be on the road in a month, so the hope is that the 2-1 home stand will push them over the hump and have the team play better.