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Tice comes up with a big save

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions were up 19-7 in the third quarter, and I was trying to decide on a lovely parting gift for coach Mike Tice.

It had to be something appropriate, such as an autographed portrait of Chris Hovan missing a tackle. Or maybe a T-shirt, black of course, with the phrase "YOU Try Coaching These Guys" printed on the back.

Tice is a good enough guy, and I, for one, was going to miss him.

But a loss to the Lions, at home, at this stage of the season, would have been too much. And Red McCombs would have taken the team slogan to a new level when his blood vessels constricted and turned his ample melon a brilliant shade of lavender.

"Purple (gasp) pride! (gurgle)"

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What a mess. The 64,156 cash customers, already surly, turned openly hostile in the third quarter when Onterrio Smith was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

"Rightfully so," said safety Brian Russell.

"I'd be upset, too," agreed Tice. "We looked like crap."

Clearly it was just a matter of time until 'Ol Red brought in somebody named Bubba or Sonny Joe to replace Tice.

And then suddenly, out of nowhere, the Vikings closed ranks. Daunte Culpepper called the offense together and demanded that everyone get his act together. The veterans on defense spoke to the younger players, telling them what was expected of them.

This is something that might not have taken place a year ago. In fact, we probably witnessed a giant leap toward maturity Sunday.

The Lions, not used to having the lead late in a game, began to self-destruct. They committed some really dumb penalties, such as a blatant unsportsmanlike late hit at a crucial time in the fourth quarter. It was a Vikings-like dumb penalty.

"I said that to the ref," Tice noted. "I said, 'Are you sure that's not one of my guys?' "

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The end result is that the Vikings still are in the hunt. Despite falling behind 7-0 only 12 seconds into the contest, and 19-7 in the third quarter, they hung in.

"We keep it together," Brian Russell said. "We put a few drives together on offense. We get the huge turnover… We; are going to be in some more tough games in December and hopefully deep into the playoffs. We've got to be able to do things like this and come back in the fourth quarter."

I'm just glad I didn't run out and buy that lovely parting gift for Tice. I'd have to give it to someone else for Christmas.

Tom Powers is a columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

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