Keys to the Game: The Golden Comeback

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Lions Get Exciting Victory In Minnesota With Overtime Comeback!

In a comeback to end all comebacks, the Lions became the first team to beat the Vikings at US Bank stadium, winning 22-16 in overtime. After a quick series from Minnesota to start, the Lions had an efficient opening drive that stalled around the Vikings 30 yard line, leading to a Matt Prater field goal.

From that point though the Detroit defense slowly started to give a little more each drive until allowing a three point reply from Blair Walsh, which suddenly jerked the Lions into a little bit of chaos. On just the second play of the Lions following drive, Matthew Stafford throws an unadvised pass right to the Vikings Chad Greenway under pressure giving Minnesota the ball deep in Detroit territory. It was a very scary moment still early in a tied game but with a bit of luck through some Vikings mistakes, and a couple big plays from Glover Quin and Kerry Hyder, Minnesota ended its drive with an unprecedented -22 yards.

After forcing them to punt on a drive starting in the Lions own red zone Detroit put on arguably their most impressive drive of the season. Keeping possession for almost ten minutes and scoring the game’s first touchdown on a reception from Anquan Boldin.

The second half, in what has become a normal occurrence on Sundays for Detroit, produced a completely different Lions team. The Vikings defense tightened, preventing a single Lions first down until the mid fourth quarter, and the Vikings offense started to get a little momentum. Leading to their first touchdown of the game on a toss to Kyle Rudolph.

The saving grace for Detroit though was that Blair Walsh is not a good kicker. On the aforementioned touchdown he smacked a relatively routine extra point off the right upright. Then a 46 yard attempt to start the fourth quarter was blocked on a nice effort from Tyrunn Walker, who we should all welcome back to relevance after his long slumber. The block set Matt Prater up for yet another long field goal, this time from 53 yards giving the Lions a four point lead. Which was quickly squandered three drives later, as the Vikings drove down the field, rolled down the clock, and tossed aside the Lions defense along the way with a Rhett Ellison touchdown.

Then Matthew Stafford happened. Twenty-three seconds remaining starting on his own twenty-five yard line and needing three points to send the game into overtime, even the biggest believers thought this game was over. First play nobody was open, the ball is dumped off quickly to Golden Tate for eight yards and six seconds tick off the clock. The despair among fans grows.

The very next play, Stafford calmly moves around in the pocket, steps up, and fires a dart through three nearby defenders to a sliding Andre Roberts. It was a 27 yard gain, the offense sprinted up to the line and spiked the ball. Matt Prater nonchalantly walked out on the field for the third time of the day with ice in his veins and boomed his best kick straight down the middle for a 58 yard game tying field goal, that felt like it would have been good from another ten yards back. Just like that out of nowhere the Lions came back from the dead to send the game to overtime.

From that point on once the Lions won the coin toss the game almost felt like a foregone conclusion. The Vikings absolutely deflated after having the win ripped from their hands and you could see on the faces of every Lions player that they smelled blood in the tall grass. Minus an unadvised return attempt by Andre Roberts, Detroit systematically dismantled a lauded Minnesota defense, converting three straight long third downs in the process. That set up the fourth third down of the drive on the Minnesota 28 yard line.

The stage was set for the ultimate showman Golden Tate and he most certainly did not disappoint. Tate ran a textbook out route, and made a great catch on yet another beautifully threaded Stafford pass in double coverage on the two best players in the Vikings secondary. If you thought Golden Tate would be satisfied with the 15 yard gain you would be wrong. With a filthy little wiggle he made Xavier Rhodes whiff and fly out of bounds. Then the ever talented Harrison Smith came in to clean up the play and with a stiff arm he was thrown to the ground like a pop warner player, two down.

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Tate had to show off his footwork to tap dance along the sideline while all this is going on and stay in bounds showing incredible awareness and body control. He then put an exclamation point with a flip into the end-zone landing on top of a second-too-late Andrew Sendejo taking the Lions to a huge victory. This huge win puts the lions at 5-4 on the season heading into the bye, a critical 1-2 in the division with mostly home games remaining, and with a legitimate chance of making the playoffs.

1) Individual Offensive Performances

On a day that Jim Bob Cooter struggled to effectively scheme against the Vikings defense, individual player’s performances on offense powered the Lions to victory. Most notably Tate and Eric Ebron. While Tate’s performance Sunday will be remembered primarily for the final play, he was on fire all game long catching 11 of Stafford’s 23 completions. While most of his grabs were for short or null gains, he held on to a lot of tough passes, contributed in a range of different plays, and prevented potentially significant losses when plays were blown up.

This kept Minnesota guessing all game long and opened up the field for other players. On top of that he was clutch in both of the last two Lions drives, helping set up the game tying field goal, and making two big catches before the winning play. Golden Tate was essential to the win.

Following this effort, Ebron absolutely has to be pointed out as having a great performance. He had a career high, team leading, 92 yards on 7 receptions gutting the middle of the Vikings defense all game long. With Eric Kendricks out, he was a clear matchup nightmare for Minnesota with Anthony Barr, Chad Greenway, and even Xavier Rhodes struggling to cover him effectively and bring him down. Every catch felt like a crucial play and he didn’t suffer from his often maligned drops issue, which has been a nice theme since returning from injury. It was a phenomenal all around effort in honor of his Grandfather on Salute to Service day.

Outside of these two performances, Stafford needs to be mentioned obviously due to his clutch finish. However on the whole it was a slightly rockier performance then we’ve come to expect from the pro bowl caliber quarterback. He threw a couple high balls in the mid/mid-deep zones that should have been catches if a little lower, and a couple very low balls that made Riddick and Tate’s lives a bit difficult on some of the quick screens, on top of the unadvised interception in the second quarter.

Overall though it would be far too nit-picky to be extensively critical of Stafford’s performance. He still posted a respectable 87.6 passer rating, moved the ball well overall against a very good defense, and most importantly came away with yet another late game win. A far more concerning note to point out however would be the play calling of Jim Bob Cooter. While true it is necessary to be patient and take time with the Vikings defense, the little screens and dump offs are not just a product of this weeks matchup and they were consistently being blown up by the vikings edge defenders resulting in numerous losses. Going forward Cooter will have to be more willing to air things out if he doesn’t want to potentially stall the offense.

2) Defense Shows Up (In Spurts)

While the defense had its faults in this matchup, they ultimately did enough to keep Detroit in this game. Again missing Darius Slay and Deandre Levy, the Lions were already behind the eight ball going into this game. With Nevin Lawson also leaving mid way that left Johnson Bademossi and Adarius Barnes as the starting outside cornerbacks for the Vikings later drives. In spite of this though, they made plays when necessary with the bail out of the offense after Stafford’s interception, and blocking the field goal attempt in the fourth quarter particularly standing out. Most importantly though, they were able to get stops in the red zone, something they desperately struggled with to this point. On five trips to the Lions red zone the Vikings scored two touchdowns, a field goal, a failed fourth down and a punt. While that’s nothing to write home about and you could argue the Lions shouldn’t have let Minnesota into their red zone that much to begin with, it’s a clear improvement, and thats definitely a positive.

The key now will be that the unit gets healthy going forward. Key players need to return and get healthier, while depth guys like Jonathan Banks and Jon Bostic enter the lineup and get up to speed. This defense certainly won’t be anything fantastic this year but if they can manage to play just average coming out of the bye week that will make this team significantly stronger heading into the last stretch of the season.

Looking Forward

At 5-4 the Lions are stunningly in good position to make the playoffs heading into their bye week. That puts Detroit in 7th place in the NFC, with 4-3-1 Washington, and the 5-3 Giants currently in the wild card spots ahead of them, both well within reach. On top of that the NFC North is wide open, with the Vikings sitting at 5-3 and Green Bay at 4-4. If they manage to lose to Washington and Tennessee respectively, then Detroit will take control of first place in the division heading into week 11 with games against both those teams still remaining.

Regarding the remaining schedule, the Lions play those three aforementioned home divisional games as well as a home matchup their first week off the bye against Jacksonville. Then a fairly tough road schedule first going to New Orleans, then later going to back to back road games in the NFC East against the New York Giants, and the Dallas Cowboys. The way the table plays out, it is realistic to see Detroit with 9-10 wins at the end of the season, however as we all know the way they have been playing it will more likely then not come down to the final drive to find out the result.

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Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.