The Vikings Played Down To the Lions and Got Away With It

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Vikings let the Detroit Lions hang around and lived to tell the tale. They’re 2-3 with an opportunity to beat the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte next week and enter the bye at .500. But like they did against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, the Vikings played down to Detroit and Alexander Mattison‘s late fumble nearly cost them the game.

Yes, like in Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals, this game ended on a Greg Joseph field goal. And yes, this time he converted it. But those were two different Vikings teams. The one in Glendale moved the ball up and down the field. Kirk Cousins made the right pre-snap reads and went drive for drive with Kyler Murray and the high-flying Arizona offense.

But as the Cleveland Browns did in their 14-7 win over Minnesota last week, Detroit clogged Minnesota’s gears and practically ground their offense to a halt. Perhaps, it’s fitting that three teams from the Rust Belt made the Vikings grind throughout the game. Conversely, Minnesota played modern football in their two games against opponents from out west, Arizona and the Seattle Seahawks.

If the Vikings played like they did in Glendale, they would have beaten Detroit soundly. But even in a sloppy effort that included only one touchdown, the Vikings had a 98 percent chance to win with 3:30 left in the game, according to ESPN. Of course, that flipped after Mattison fumbled and the Lions not only found the end zone but went up 17-16 after a two-point conversion. Using ESPN’s game probability metric again, Detroit had an 82 percent chance to win the game when Ameer Abdullah went down at the 18-yard line with 37 seconds left.

However, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson responded almost nonchalantly when asked about having to score in that situation.

“We’ve got time,” Jefferson said when asked what was going through his head.

“Yeah, I think everybody’s mindset, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey. It’s time to go to work,’ echoed Thielen, who caught two passes in the final drive. “That’s just how this league works. We practice those situations all OTAs and training camp. Coach is like, ‘Hey, we’ve got 37 seconds left, and we’ve got two timeouts, and we’re minus-25.’ We literally do that every single day in practice.”

Perhaps that’s surprising, given Minnesota’s season was on the line after the game appeared to be over before the two-minute warning. A loss may have cost Mike Zimmer his job. But the players insist that a win’s a win and that that wasn’t dampened by the way in which they played. Sure, there are some things they need to work on, but at least they go into practice coming off a victory.

That Joseph converted from 55 yards out after missing a 49-yarder earlier in the game allowed for a bit of a redemption story. Joseph had been perfect since missing the game-winner in Arizona, but his 49-yard attempt fell short. He had to mentally regroup and deliver on a kick that was six yards longer.

“I said, ‘OK, if they tie it, game-winning field goal,’” said Joseph when asked about what he was thinking after Mattison fumbled. “That was my mindset and I just stuck to it.”

“I talked to Greg,” added Mattison, “and he said, ‘You got my back, I got your back.’”

A positive moment for a game that nearly was entirely negative.

You have to feel for the Lions. They mounted a late comeback against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1 but fell short. A week later they went into halftime up on the Green Bay Packers and lost, and then lost on a 66-yard Justin Tucker game-winning field goal the next week. Dan Campbell had to hold back tears in his post-game press conference on Sunday. He knows how hard his team fought, only to come up short again.

And the Vikings should have seen this coming. The Lions aren’t a good team, but they have fight in them. It nearly was enough for them on Sunday, and there would likely have been repercussions if Minnesota had lost. The Vikings got away with poor play and a late fumble that could have spoiled what looked like a sure win. Now, they have to come out of Carolina with a win and hope they don’t play like this again. The schedule only gets more difficult from here.

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