The Vikings' game-saving play in Sunday's 28-24 victory over the Lions fell out of the air about as quickly as the news that third-year safety Josh Metellus would be making his first NFL start.
The 2020 sixth-round pick replaced safety Harrison Smith, who was ruled out because of a concussion suffered Monday at Philadelphia, and helped a beleaguered secondary stop another bad start with the victory-clinching interception. While under pressure, Lions quarterback Jared Goff lobbed a deep pass that was picked off by Metellus in the closing seconds.
"I lost it for a second in the sky because of the lights," said Metellus, who nearly doubled his career defensive playing time Sunday. "Low and behold at the last second, [it fell] right in front of my face and I had to make the grab."
Metellus finished second on the team with 11 combined tackles (10 solo) while getting the start over 2022 first-round draft pick Lewis Cine, who continued to play special teams. For Metellus, a special teams mainstay, the start was an opportunity he wanted to seize.
"It felt good," Metellus said. "Just a confidence booster. Harrison went out. We got a rookie who's still working and trying to catch back up after his injuries and stuff, so coach called my name, and I was ready to show up."
Coach Kevin O'Connell and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, whose approach during Monday's loss was questioned by ESPN commentator and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, among others, embraced on the field after the defense sealed the victory.
"He was pretty fired up," O'Connell said of Donatell. "I was, too. I just wanted to tell him how proud I was of him and his guys, and I know they wanted to get that ball back to end the game, so it was fun to see him like that."
The Vikings defense rebounded after allowing another hot start by the opposing quarterback. A week after the Eagles' Jalen Hurts completed his first 11 passes for 151 yards, Goff completed 17 of 24 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown before halftime.
Lions coach Dan Campbell's aggression on fourth down, including a 30-yard catch-and-run by receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown to convert a fourth-and-5 play in the first quarter, kept the Vikings on the field despite Detroit going only 3-for-16 on third downs.
"We started pretty slow, as far as letting them score and letting them get up," safety Camryn Bynum said. "Giving up 24 points — that's below the standard."
A lack of passion was a problem, according to Metellus, who said that changed in the second half thanks to plays like defensive end Danielle Hunter's fourth-down run stop in the fourth quarter. Goff went only 8-of-17 for 98 yards after halftime.
For the first time in the Lions' past nine games, St. Brown was held to fewer than eight catches, but he still finished with six grabs for 73 yards.
"Yeah, but, did he score?" cornerback Cameron Dantzler said. "I'm just saying we did it as a unit. He's a great player, but we held him down — him and [D'Andre Swift]. You know, and came out on top."
The Vikings secondary showed it can maintain its collective confidence through some early ups and downs. Sunday's finish revealed the young group can rebound quickly.
"Mentally, that's something we want as far as wanting the game to be in our hands," Bynum said. "Them having to pass the ball so we can make a play. Josh ended up coming down with it."