La Velle E. Neal III
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Three games into the season, and it's still hard to get a handle on how good the Vikings are.

At least, on Sunday, they were survivors.

They fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter, eliciting the first boos of the afternoon from the crowd. Once they climbed back into the game, they promptly fell behind by 10 points.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff had time to shave during some of his dropbacks, thanks to a non-existent pass rush.

The Vikings let the Lions convert on fourth down three times in the first half, and Detroit was 4-for-6 in such situations for the game.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins admitted to the timing being off with his receivers because of how physical Detroit's defensive backs were. And star wide receiver Justin Jefferson was schemed out of the game, catching just three passes for 14 yards. Look for other teams to copy that approach.

"There's a lot we can do better to not make it so hard on ourselves," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said.

Falling behind by double digits is not recommended as a way to win. But a couple of late stops by the defense and an appearance by Fourth Quarter Kirk — who found K.J. Osborn open in the end zone — allowed the Vikings to take their first lead of the day with 45 seconds remaining and pull off a 28-24 victory over a pesky Lions team.

You take wins any way you can get in them in the NFL. No matter how revolting they can be. The Vikings will grimace at the tape of Sunday's game before preparing for a trip to London next weekend and a meeting with the New Orleans Saints.

"Was not a clean game by us by any stretch," Cousins said. "We need to play a lot better up ahead, but these are the kind of games where you have to find the inches and we were able to find them today."

The inches weren't visible for a lengthy stretch of Sunday's game, and U.S. Bank Stadium was so quiet at times during the second half you could hear a mouse chew on dropped popcorn.

Perhaps it's just the presence of the Dan Campbell-led Lions that makes these games a grind. The last three games between the teams have been decided in the final minute of play, with the Vikings winning twice.

The Lions cracked the door open for the Vikings with less than 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter when Goff tried to hit Josh Reynolds with a deep pass on third and 1 instead of running the ball to keep the clock moving. Patrick Peterson defended the play and Detroit was forced to punt.

The Vikings drove for a touchdown on the next possession to make it 24-21. Fans were emotionally back in the game. And an embarrassing loss to the perennial NFC doormat was avoided.

So the Vikings rebounded from their 24-7 loss to Philadelphia on Monday during which Eagles receivers were running unchecked through the secondary. Sunday's game felt eerily similar to that one early on, as Goff, who was not sacked all day, had time to find open teammates.

The last two games have offered reasons to be concerned about Ed Donatell's 3-4 defense — or the players who are performing in it. Veteran safety Harrison Smith was unavailable because of a concussion, which didn't help. Josh Metellus, not rookie Lewis Cine, stepped in for Smith on Sunday and finished with 11 tackles and a game-clinching interception of Goff during the Lions' final drive.

The Vikings, with seven sacks entering the game, need to rediscover their pass rush. And they aren't going to win many games in which they trail 14-0 at one point. And if opponents want to play physical with their receivers — or triple-team Jefferson — the response must come before they fall behind early in games.

Despite these issues, the Vikings are 2-1. The record suggests they are a good team. More evidence is needed to determine just how good.