The Vikings played down the Lions and got away with it
The Minnesota Vikings let the Detroit Lions hang out and lived to tell the story. They are 2-3 with a chance to beat the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte next week and get a pass at .500. But like they did against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, the Vikings played down Detroit and Alexander Mattison’s late fumble nearly cost them the game.
Yes, like in week two against the Arizona Cardinals, this game ended with a field goal from Greg Joseph. And yes, this time he converted it. But they were two different Vikings teams. Glendale’s moved the ball up and down the field. Kirk Cousins did the right readings before the crash and went to drive to lead with Kyler Murray and Arizona’s top offense.
But like the Cleveland Browns did in their 14-7 win over Minnesota last week, Detroit blocked Minnesota’s gears and practically stopped their offense. It might be fitting that three Rust Belt teams made the Vikings cringe throughout the game. Conversely, Minnesota has played modern football in both of its games against opponents from the west, Arizona and the Seattle Seahawks.
If the Vikings played like they did in Glendale, they would have beaten Detroit hard. But even in a sloppy effort that included just one touchdown, the Vikings had a 98% chance of winning with 3:30 to go, according to ESPN. Of course, that changed 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 odds of play metric again, Detroit had an 82% chance of winning the game when Ameer Abdullah fell to the 18-yard line with 37 seconds left.
However, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson responded almost casually when asked if they should score in this situation.
“We have time,” Jefferson said when asked what was going on in his head.
“Yeah, I think everyone’s state of mind, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey. It’s time to go to work, ”echoed Thielen, who caught two assists in the last practice. “This is how this league works. We practice these situations every OTA and training camp. The coach says to me: “Hey, we have 37 seconds left, and we have two timeouts, and we have minus 25”. We do this literally every day in practice.
Perhaps surprisingly, given that 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 players insist that a win is a win and it wasn’t held back by the way they played. Of course, there are some things they need to work on, but at least they come into practice after a win.
That Joseph converted from 55 yards after missing a 49 yards earlier in the game allowed for a bit of redemption history. Joseph had been perfect since missing the game winner in Arizona, but his 49-yard attempt failed. He had to mentally regroup and kick six yards longer.
“I said, ‘OK, if they match him, a winning basket,’” Joseph said when asked what he thought after Mattison’s trial and error. “It was my state of mind and I clung to it.”
“I spoke to Greg,” Mattison added, “and he said, ‘You supported me, I supported you.’”
A positive moment for an almost entirely negative game.
You must feel for the Lions. They made a late comeback against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, but fell short. A week later, they came in at halftime against the Green Bay Packers and lost, then lost on a 66-yard game-winning goal from Justin Tucker the following week. Dan Campbell had to hold back tears during his post-game press conference on Sunday. He knows how hard his team fought to fail again.
And the Vikings should have seen it coming. The Lions are not a good team, but they do have some fighting in them. It was almost enough for them on Sunday, and there likely would have been repercussions if Minnesota had lost. The Vikings got away with poor play and a late fumble that could have spoiled what appeared to be a sure win. Now they have to come out of Carolina with a win and hope they don’t play like that again. The program only gets harder from here.