Two teams going in different directions met at Mall of America Field Sunday. When it was over, when the Lions has roared back for a 26-23 overtime victory on Jason Hanson’s 32- yard field goal – his fourth of the day – to make the Lions 3-0 for the first time since 1980.
The Vikings? They were dealing with the damage of a third straight second-half collapse the likes of which haven’t been seen around here, not to mention an 0-3 start that is quickly relegating their 2011 season to the scrap heap.
But not the Lions. Down 20-0 at halftime, having gained all of 50 offensive yards in the process, quarterback Matthew Stafford came out slinging in the second half. Stafford finished up 32-for-46 for 378 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The Lions entered the game favored to win in Minnesota for the first time since 1981. They ended up winning here for the first time in 14 years.
“I think there is a confidence, definitely,” said Stafford, whose 32-yard TD pass to Johnson early in the third quarter began the Lions’ comeback. “You go into an environment like this, against a team that’s really a whole lot better than their 0-3 record. That team has a ton of talent. To be down 20-0 at half and come out with a victory? I think we believe in each other.”
In their 0-3 start the Vikings have outscored opponents 54-7 in the first half, building double-figure leads. But the Vikings have been outscored 67-6 in the second half, and Sunday was no different. The Vikings dominated the first half, scoring 20 and gaining 213 yards. In the second half? Three points, 0-for-6 on third downs. Their first four possessions of the second half ended thusly: punt, punt, punt, and a failed fourth-and-1 run.
“The main thing here is that we have to stay together,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “Because the only people that can fix this is us, with the guys that we have.”
The Vikings may have been in a different position had their first two drives not sputtered in the end zone, leading to two of Ryan Longwell’s three field goals.
Still, the lead was at 20 until the Lions turned the tide. Johnson cut it to 20-7 with his 32-yard catch. Then, after a Vikings third-and-out, Stafford’s 27-yard pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew keyed a drive that ended in a field goal.
The comeback was on. Starting at their 11, Stafford’s 60-yard screen to Javid Best keyed an 89-yard drive that ended with Stafford’s 5-yard pass to Johnsonon the first play of the fourth quarter, and it was 20-17. The Vikings used good field position to drive to the Lions’ 17 on the ensuing drive, but Toby Gerhart failed to gain a yard on fourt-and-1 at the Detroit 17.
The Vikings defense forced two more Detroit drives to end in field goals, with Hanson’s 40-yarder giving the Lions a 23-20 lead with 2:30 left in regulation. Minnesota responded with Longwell’s 49-yarder with 1:11 left to force overtime. The Lions won the toss in overtime, got into field goal range with Stafford’s 40-yarder to Johnson, then lined up for the game-winner by Hanson.
Pettigrew led the Lions with 112 yards on 11 receptions. Johnson had 108 on seven catches. The Vikings got 78 rushing yards and one TD from Adrian Peterson.
“It was the toughest win that I’ve been a part of,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We had to overcome a lot of adversity. .. but we just went at halftime and didn’t change anything and just started playing. We got a couple stops, scored, got the ball to our playmakers, put the ball on Jason Hanson’s foot and make it happen.”