Lions stun Vikings 29-27 on final play for first win of season
Defense falters on final drive as Vikings fall to 5-7.
DETROIT — This time the Minnesota Vikings didn’t escape.
The Vikings lost to lowly Detroit 29-27 on Sunday at Ford Field on Jared Goff’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on fourth-and-2 on the final play. It was the first win of the season for the Lions, who raised their record to 1-10-1.
“We’re sick right now,’’ said Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. “We don’t want to lose, especially to games like this.”
The Vikings (5-7) have flirted with danger plenty this season, including defeating the Lions 19-17 on Oct. 10 at U.S. Bank Stadium on a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph on the final play.
The Lions had lost three times this season on last-second field goals and five times overall in one-possession games. But on Sunday they finally got a last-ditch win of their own.
“I was proud of our guys,’’ said Detroit coach Dan Campbell. “They fought. They’ve continued to fight all year and it paid dividends today and we found a way to win.”
The Lions marched 75 yards in 1:50 for the dramatic win in which Goff took the snap with 4 seconds left and hit St. Brown just across the goal line when he was tightly covered by Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler. Before that, they looked primed to blow another game.
Detroit led 20-6 at halftime before the Vikings stormed back to take a 27-23 lead with 1:50 left in the game on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Jefferson. Jefferson, with fellow top receiver Adam Thielen having been lost for the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle, had 11 catches for a career-high 182 yards.
But the Lions weren’t done. Despite having no timeouts, Goff completed 9 of 14 passes on the final drive for 75 yards. For the game , he completed 25 of 41 passes for 296 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
“We were just too soft on them,’’ Vikings safety Harrison Smith said of the last drive. “Let them get out of bounds a couple times.”
With the loss, the Vikings’ playoff hopes took a serious hit. With five games left, Minnesota is in the No. 9 spot in the NFC playoff race, and seven teams will make it.
“Obviously, our backs are to the wall, but they’ve been back against the wall for a while,’’ said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
It was one of the tougher losses of Zimmer’s eight-year Minnesota tenure. It came after he had warned his team all week about the Lions hardly being a typical winless team.
“They’re not doing good,’’ Zimmer said of the mindset of his players after the game.
The Vikings were hampered by being down a number of top players. On defense, linebacker Anthony Barr was inactive because of a hamstring injury, and he joined in being out linebacker Eric Kendricks (biceps), cornerback Patrick Peterson (COVID-19 reserve list), and defensive ends Everson Griffen (non-football illness list) and Danielle Hunter (out for season with shoulder injury). Those players have combined to make 19 career Pro Bowls.
On offense, the Vikings were without star running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) in addition to Thielen getting hurt. Alexander Mattison filled in for Cook and had 90 yards on 22 carries.
“It’s part of the game,’’ Smith said about all the injuries. “It’s how everybody is this time of year. You can always make an excuse if you want, it doesn’t matter. You have to find a way to win.”
The Vikings didn’t do that despite winning the turnover battle 2-1 and stopping the Lions twice earlier in the game on fourth down.
“We put ourselves in a favorable position and we didn’t execute when we needed to in the end,’’ Smith said.
The Lions did. After St. Brown caught the winning pass, players ran onto the field and celebrated as if they’d just won a playoff game.
“It came down to one play and we were able to make it,’’ Goff said.
Before that, it looked as if the Vikings were ready to beat the Lions for a ninth straight time and make Cousins a winner for the fourth time in a row in a trip back to his home state. Cousins, who is from Holland, Mich., completed 30 of 40 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns, meaning he has now thrown for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns in his four Minnesota games at Ford Field.
But Cousins couldn’t get the Vikings in the end zone on their first two trips to the red zone, and they had to settle for two Joseph field goals in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead. The Lions then scored 20 unanswered points in the second quarter, which included touchdown passes by Goff of 9 yards to T.J. Hockenson and 23 yards to Brock Wright. The second was set up when Cousins was sacked by Charles Harris and lost a fumble that Julian Okwara recovered at the Detroit 44.
The Vikings finally got going in the second half, which included Mattison scoring on an 8-yard run in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 20-15, Cousins throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn early in the fourth quarter to cut it to 23-21 and then Cousins hitting Jefferson for the late score. But all of those touchdowns were followed by unsuccessful two-point conversions.
“A difficult loss” Cousins said. “It was a tale of two halves. We put ourselves in a hole early. We fought back in the second half, moved the ball well, and obviously it wasn’t enough. … This one obviously hurts, but we’ve got to move on.
For the Lions, they will avoid a second winless season out of the last 14. In 2008, they went 0-16, and had losses of 12-10 and 20-16 to Minnesota. But on Sunday they didn’t let one slip away.