Keys to the Game: Lions top Vikings on Thanksgiving

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In Another Miracle Win, Lions Beat Vikings On Thanksgiving.

In perhaps the most important Thanksgiving game in this team’s long history, a Matt Prater field goal on the final play of the game led the Lions to a massive 16-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Giving them not only sole control of the NFC North, but at least a two game lead over every other team in the division.

The game started with the Lions getting the ball first on home field and using it to their advantage, capping off an almost eight minute long march down the field. A beautiful touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin in the back of the end zone gave the Lions an early seven point lead. Minnesota responded on the very next drive (after two highly questionable calls eliminated two forced turnovers by the Detroit defense), resulting in a five yard Matt Asiata touchdown run.

A huge gain by Golden Tate in the second quarter brought Detroit into range for a go ahead field goal, and after back to back failed attempts on fourth down at mid field by each side the teams broke for half with a 10-7 Lions lead. Minnesota evened the score in the mid third quarter off a Jerick McKinnon gain equal to that of Golden Tate’s earlier, leading to a Kai Forbath field goal.

The Vikings defense tightened in the second half, making things much tougher on the Lions attack. Leading to several short drives that tired out Detroit’s defense, and early in the fourth quarter led to another Vikings field goal. Giving them the lead at 13-10. Late in the fourth quarter, Mathew Stafford showed up yet again, driving from his own two yard line to the Vikings 30 yard line for a Matt Prater game tying field goal.

With that it seemed like this game was destined for overtime, with the Vikings offense having difficulty moving the ball, a 1:45 left on the clock, and only one timeout. Then Darius Slay decided he didn’t want to wait for his turkey.

On the fourth play of the Vikings possession, third and seven, Sam Bradford telegraphed a pass to Adam Thielen. Darius ‘Big Play’ Slay ripped the ball out of Thielen’s waiting arms, giving Detroit the ball back at Minnesota’s 20 yard line. Minnesota, left completely helpless with no time on the clock, watched as  Matt Prater sealed the game with a 40 yard field goal.

The Vikings faced yet another absolutely crushing last second loss against their division, while the Lions took control of the division and gave their fans the performance they had been waiting for and deserved for so long.

Key 1: Finding Ways to Win

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Thursday’s game was very much in the mold of most other Lions wins this year, and yet not the same. A large criticism of the team up until now was that Stafford was dragging them to victories and that these results were unsustainable. Today’s win came down to the wire featuring a complete effort from several key players.

Darius Slay showed up yet again as the game changing player he is, Anquan Boldin was clutch throughout the game with key catches in tough spots, and numerous other players had big performances throughout the day. If the Lions continue to get more of these full team efforts with multiple guys stepping up together hopefully the Cardiac Cats can actually pull away in a few games down the stretch.

Regardless of your thoughts of these games though, the fact that the Lions are pulling out wins clearly shows one thing: Detroit is a good football team. If this was a few games in a small sample I could understand someone being skeptical. However when you pull this many games out late it’s not luck anymore, it’s because the team is good enough to be able to come away with the win. Detroit deserves, and hopefully will gain, national respect for their record in coming weeks and not simply the thought that they are “lucky”.

Key 2: Kill a Brew for Killebrew

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Slowly but surely fourth round rookie Miles Killebrew has become more of a presence on the defense, and the last two weeks he’s been absolutely crucial. Despite playing less then 20% of the defensive snaps, Killebrew has nine tackles, all on third down, and six of those tackles directly resulted in punts. While Slay was the hero on defense this Thanksgiving, a real argument could be made that Killebrew was the true star on that day. On top of his defensive showings, Killebrew has been a beast on special teams with a couple tackles for a loss on punt coverage, quietly becoming one of the teams key special teams guys.

Every opportunity he has had he’s been all over the ball, hopping between the strong safety and Nickel LB positions. He’s off the field in a lot of standard sets, however playing at this rate combined with the poor play of some others on the defense might force Terryl Austin to find more ways to play Killebrew down the stretch. Don’t look now but with Deandre Levy’s return imminent and things tightening up across the unit, this defense might actually be respectable soon.

Key 3: Matthew Stafford

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Stafford produced a masterful work of art on the opening drive, going six for six against an elite Vikings defense. Including one incredible toss to Anquan Boldin between two defenders deep in Minnesota’s red zone.

Not only was Stafford arguably the only quarterback in the game today that could have made that throw, he very well might have been one of the few in NFL history. Another key throw was a huge jump pass to an open reciever, creating his own windows when none exist. From key third down runs to late game talks in the huddle he absolutely does it all.

What Lions fans have come to expect as routine trademark side arm flicks on the move to any given receiver is quickly becoming the stuff of legend and it is leading Detroit to a winning record. At this point the Lions will go as far as Stafford can take them, and it is a really fun ride. Lions fans make no mistake, don’t take this time for granted and enjoy this. Having an elite quarterback is rare and the Stafford era will be something to remember.

Looking Forward

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With sole control of the NFC North, Detroit has guaranteed themselves the right to control their own destiny for at least the next several weeks. Their next stop is the Superdome for a road matchup against the currently 4-6 New Orleans Saints. While their record may make fans excited about this upcoming game, the Saints have been very good at home. With Drew Brees playing some of the best football of his career.

This looks like a matchup of two very similar teams on paper: quality offenses with elite quarterbacks that can pick you apart at every level, and struggling defenses that have faced tons of injury issues. It will be important for the Lions to set the tone early, by consistently putting up points and hopefully getting some stops that take the crowd out of the game. Forcing the Saints to play from behind and become one dimensional, putting their running backs back in the stable. It will undoubtably be a back and forth high scoring affair that yet again should come down to the wire with the last team with the ball taking this one home.

Next week’s game in the grand scheme of things is not an important must win, but would be huge to pick up nonetheless. With the Vikings taking on the NFC best Dallas Cowboys next Thursday, a win in week 13 combined with another Vikings loss would put up an almost insurmountable two and a half game lead on the division with four games remaining.

At that point the Lions would have to lose out (including a game at home against the bears) and the Vikings would have to win out for Minnesota to take the division away from Detroit. That would leave only Green Bay who are currently in free fall and have a fairly difficult schedule remaining (with games against Houston on a short week, at Philadelphia, and against Seattle) in play for first place in the north. Add in the fact that they very well could already be three games back after Monday night with five games left to play, including Seattle. It wouldn’t be shocking if their game at Detroit on New Year’s day is a post elimination game.

All of this tells us that Detroit currently has an absolute stranglehold on the division. Collecting wins in these next two relatively easier games at New Orleans and vs. Chicago could potentially wrap up the Lions first home playoff game in decades.

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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.