Dan Campbell's field goal decision and K.J. Osborn's clutch final drive told the end of the story of the Vikings' improbable 28-24 win Sunday.
But in any game, there are key moments — some less easily identifiable than others as they happen — that lead to the things that ultimately become our memories.
Before those other moments fade, let's take a chronological look at five underrated keys to Sunday's win — many of which Patrick Reusse and I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast.
- Laundry day: With Detroit already leading 14-0 and the Vikings desperate to quell momentum in the second quarter with some points, a theme emerged. Lions corner Amani Oruwariye committed an illegal contact penalty on an early 2nd-and-7 to keep the Vikings' drive going. Lions corner Mike Hughes later committed pass interference on third and goal, one play before Adam Thielen's TD made it 14-7. Oruwariye was flagged SIX times on the day (four accepted, two declined).
- A time to play it safe? The data suggests Lions coach Dan Campbell did the right thing when Detroit went for it on 4th-and-1 from midfield in the second quarter. But the play was stopped on a nice pass breakup by Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. It gave the Vikings the ball back with great field position right after that Thielen touchdown, and they drove for the tying score.
- Lions doing Lions things: While it didn't cost them on the scoreboard because Dalvin Cook fumbled on the ensuing possession, Jamaal Williams' 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his hip-thrusty touchdown celebration was an indication that the Lions were still very much capable of doing Lions things. Detroit's weird swap of offense for the punt team to start the fourth quarter — resulting in a delay of game — was another such moment. (By the way, Williams gave a great answer about the penalty after the game):
- A curious call: OK now we are getting back into more actual game impact stuff. Detroit had a chance to seize control early in the fourth quarter. After the Lions forced a Vikings punt, they had the ball 3rd-and-1 from their own 27. But instead of relying on a consistent running game and a bad Vikings run defense (more on that later), they threw a pass deep down the right sideline. It fell incomplete, the Lions punted, and the Vikings scored a few minutes later to cut the deficit to 24-21.
- Saved by bad run defense: This is a little tongue-in-cheek, but hear me out. Detroit was up 24-21 and had the ball at the Vikings' 46 facing 3rd-and-14 at the two-minute warning. The Vikings were out of timeouts, meaning another running play was the pretty obvious call. But even in a clear run situation, Williams gashed the Vikings — who have now given up 413 rushing yards and 4.8 yards per carry on the season — for 10 yards. Kendricks mercifully stopped Williams short of a first down, and you could see at least one Vikings defender throw his hands up as if to say "what just happened?"
But the porous run defense might have been a blessing in disguise. It put Detroit into no-man's land at 4th-and-4 from the 36. Go for it? That's what the data said because if you make it the game is essentially over but it's still risky. Try a long field goal? It's makeable, but even a make only puts you up by six. Punt? You could, but your opponent still would just need a field goal to tie.
Campbell, of course, chose the field goal. Detroit missed, Osborn and Kirk Cousins connected twice, and the rest is history. But if the Vikings make the stop on Williams after, say, four yards, it's probably an easy decision to punt on 4th-and-10 from the 42. By giving up MORE yards, they unwittingly forced a tough (and bad) decision.
Maybe the Vikings still would have won. But the way it played out, we know this: Even when things went well for Detroit in the end, they went poorly.