It was a Thanksgiving Day feats for the Vikings in Detroit as they rode a hot start, a resilient defense and Case Keenum to a 30-23 win over the Lions to win their seventh consecutive game and move to 9-2 on the season.
Here are 10 takeaways from the Vikings win on Thursday.
1. Fast start put Vikings in control early
The Vikings were on the road for this Thanksgiving gathering but they were the ones who looked right at home in the 1st quarter. Detroit won the toss and elected to receive, but they were immediately shunned by a Vikings defense that forced a three-and-out. Case Keenum and Co. drove 80 yards in 14 plays on the next possession, scoring on a one-yard toss to Kyle Rudolph. Danielle Hunter recovered a botched Matthew Stafford-Ameer Abdullah exchange on the Lions second play of the ensuing drive, and Keenum dashed in from nine yards out moments later to put the Vikings up 13-0 in what seemed like a flash. It was a welcome sequence of events for a Vikings team that allowed opponents to score a touchdown on their first possession in each of the last three games.
2. The Vikings kept their composure as Lions charged late
As good as the Vikings were in the opening quarter, the Lions were just as determined down the stretch. Several times the Vikings were in position to put the game out of reach, but the Lions showed their toughness and remained in the game and in position to come charging down the stretch. Detroit scored 13 unanswered points to go from being down 27-10 to within four points at 27-23. In that stretch, the Vikings offense punted on three straight possessions and the defense allowed 141 yards. But the Vikings didn't panic and their confidence didn't waver as they absorbed several momentum-changing plays. A good-looking drive stalled and the Vikings were forced to punt once again, but Ryan Quigley dropped the punt on the Detroit 9, the defense forced a three-and-out and then Keenum drove the offense 45 yards in nine plays to put Kai Forbath in position for a 36-yard field goal to put the Vikings up by seven points. On the ensuing Lions possession, the Vikings forced Detroit into a 4th and 7 from its own 28 and Xavier Rhodes intercepted Stafford's pass to put the game on ice.
3. Keenum in command, again
The "Case Keenum is on fire" narrative may have to be changed to a "Case Keenum is better than most people thought" narrative. The Vikings are 9-2 on the season, and they are 8-2 in games in which Keenum plays. He's started each of the team's wins in their seven-game winning streak and he continues to take care of the ball, complete passes at a high percentage and make clutch plays on 3rd down and in the red zone. On Thursday, Keenum was 21 of 30 for 282 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, generating a passer rating of 121.8. The Vikings were six of 13 (46%) on 3rd down and three of five (60%) in the red zone.
4. Stafford never settled into groove
Whether it was early in the game when the Vikings defense was buoyed by a double-digit lead and swarming to the football or late after he had taken hits and appeared to be a bit banged up, Stafford never seemed to settle into a groove. He completed just 57.1% of his passes on the day and was uncharacteristically off the mark on passes of all depths. The Vikings took Stafford to the ground for three sacks – 2.0 by Everson Griffen and 1.0 by Danielle Hunter – and they also hit him several times immediately after he got rid of the ball. Stafford did lead the Lions on a bit of a comeback down the stretch, but he was unable to trump the Vikings defense in the final moments of the 4th quarter.
5. Running game responded with authority to open second half
A key moment in the game came late in the 2nd quarter when the Lions, who up to that point had 87 net yards of offense, drove 75 yards in a jiffy to put up a touchdown right before halftime and cut the Vikings lead from 20-3 to 20-10. The intermission did not temper the Vikings ability to respond, though. The Vikings had the first possession of the 3rd quarter and ripped off runs of 46, 16, 11 and two yards on consecutive plays to score a touchdown and extend the lead to 27-10. Latavius Murray had the 46-yard run and the two-yarder for a score, and then finished the game with 84 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. McKinnon generated the 16-yard and 11-yard gains and also added a 31-yard reception during the game. For the game, the Vikings generated 136 rushing yards on 41 carries (3.5 yards per rush), numbers that were good enough to get the victory but that also included several negative-yardage runs the team will look to correct heading into next week's game at Atlanta.
6. The Vikings offense has come alive
In the last three weeks, the Vikings have generated 1,265 yards of offense and 12 touchdowns, averaging 30.7 points per game. The offense has scored a touchdown on 10 of its last 12 red zone possessions and the 3rd-down conversion rate for the season is 45.6, fourth-best in the NFL. The Vikings will likely finish Week 12 as a top five offense, averaging 375.7 yards per game. For a long time, the Vikings were categorized by man as a team with a great defense that was held back by its offense. The 2017 Vikings offense has destroyed that reality and is a true complement, if not even contributor, to the well-renowned defense.
7. Lions running game all but eliminated by Vikings defense
It's hard enough to stop Stafford, but if the Lions are also running the ball well then it's nearly impossible. The Vikings took the "running the ball well" part out of the equation and essentially turned it into a "not running the ball at all." Detroit rushed for 53 yards on 15 carries, with only one of their 15 1st downs being generated by a rush.
8. Penalties, misfortune kept Vikings from running away
The Vikings had several opportunities to break the game wide open but weren't able to do it because of penalties, mistakes and some misfortune. A defensive holding penalty on Rhodes after a 3rd down stop helped lead to the Lions first score of the game in the 2nd quarter and then a pass interference call on Rhodes and a facemask call on Eric Kendricks on consecutive plays put the Lions in position to score their late-half touchdown to cut the halftime deficit from 17 points to 10. The Lions kicked a field goal on their second drive of the 3rd quarter, but on the 3rd down prior to Matt Prater's 50-yard field goal it appeared as if Stafford fumbled after Everson Griffen sacked him. The officials allowed Detroit to maintain possession, however, and Prater pulled the Lions to within 11 rather than the Vikings taking possession with a chance to add to their lead. For the game, the Vikings were penalized nine times for 74 yards and they lost the one challenge they initiated. Fortunately, their hot start and strong finish was enough to withstand the misfortune and the Lions furious charge down the stretch.
9. Rudolph's consistency rewarded with pair of TDs
Kyle Rudolph entered Thursday's game with a streak of six games in which he had at least five catches. In that span of consistency, he had two touchdowns. Rudolph did not reach the five-catch threshold on Thursday, but he did something more important – he scored two touchdowns. Rudolph was left wide open on a play action fake on the Vikings first possession and he hauled in the pass to cap an 80-yard touchdown drive. In the final minute of the 2nd quarter, Rudolph's athleticism was on display as he ran underneath a perfectly-placed pass from Keenum for a score. Rudolph now has five touchdowns on the season and has extended his franchise record for career receiving touchdowns by a tight end to 34.
10. Vikings have taken command of the NFC North
Thursday's win did not eliminated the Lions from contention in the NFC North, but it gives the Vikings a three-game lead with five to play. The win also gives the Vikings a high probability of holding the tie breaker over Detroit. Take this conversation a step further, and the Vikings can set their sights on a first-round bye because that luxury is within their grasp. The Vikings control their own destiny as it relates to earning the NFC's No. 2 seed by virtue of head-to-head tie breakers over division-leaders New Orleans and Los Angeles and with a game still on the schedule with NFC South-contending Carolina. The Philadelphia Eagles are a game clear of the Vikings but have yet to play this week and would drop into a tie with Minnesota should they lose to Chicago on Sunday.