The Vikings went to the Motor City on Sunday and outplayed the Lions, but a handful of miscues, including two turnovers and two missed field goals, cost them their first division win of the season.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's loss to Detroit.
1. Proud of the Effort, Not of the ResultThere is no column in the standings for moral victories and the Vikings and their fans aren't interested in being the kind of team that prides itself in accumulating them. But even in losing the game on Sunday, it's hard not to come away encouraged with many aspects of the Vikings performance in Detroit. The Lions entered the game with all of their team goals still in front of them and especially juiced up after watching the Green Bay Packers lose in Buffalo earlier in the day. Yet the Vikings, outmanned because of injuries up and down the lineup, gave the Lions all they could handle on their home turf. Minnesota outgained Detroit 360-233, forced Detroit to punt on each of its first five possessions, held the Lions to two of 11 on 3rd downs, built up an over nine-minute advantage in time of possession, led until 3:38 to play and had a chance to win the game as time expired.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer should be proud of his team's effort and heart, and can come away from the eighth loss of the season knowing he has a team full of guys who put forth great effort, authored encouraging performances, and can learn from excruciating losses such as these.
"As I told the team, I'm not into moral victories, but these guys fought and played, scratched and clawed and I thought gave a great effort today," Zimmer said after the game. "Hopefully, just like I said last week when I wasn't happy with our performance, this week we played well enough to win. We just didn't win on the scoreboard. Hopefully this will springboard into the kind of football team that I want to have, without the loss, obviously."
2. Bridgewater's Mistakes Costly, But Performance Encouraging
The two interceptions QB Teddy Bridgewater threw near the end of the first half proved costly. Detroit generated 10 points, including its only touchdown of the day, off the two mistakes. Those two throws, along with an overthrow of Jarius Wright late in the game as the Vikings were driving to win, are plays the rookie QB would like to have back. Outside of that, Bridgewater played at a high level once again for the Vikings and continues to look like the team's long-awaited at answer at the most important position in the game. Bridgewater opened the game completing 15 of his first 18 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown, shredding a Lions defense that may be the NFL's best unit. Even after the two interceptions, Bridgewater remained sharp, going 16 of 21 in the second half, and had the Vikings in position to try a game-winning field goal as time expired. While the mistakes proved costly, Bridgewater's ability to move the Vikings up and down the field while playing with three non-starters on the offensive line against this defense is encouraging.
View images from the week 15 matchup at Ford Field between the Vikings and Lions.
3. Vikings Defense Keeps Playing at High LevelDetroit's offense features a host of explosive playmakers such as Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, while the Vikings defense was missing three starters. But it was the Vikings defense that looked the part of a 10-win team in position to win the division. The Vikings held QB Matthew Stafford and Co. without a 1st down until the 2nd quarter, surrendered just one play of 20+ yards the entire game, forced punts on the first five possessions, held the Lions to two of 11 (18%) on 3rd down, yielded only 4.7 yards per play, held Detroit to one of four in red zone efficiency, and gave up its only touchdown thanks to an interception returned to the plus-11.
4. Rhodes Closed for Lions Passing GameCB Xavier Rhodes added to what has been a breakout season and the Vikings pass defense as a whole continues to benefit and improve because of it. Rhodes shadowed WR Calvin Johnson for most of the day and helped hold the NFL's best receiver to just four receptions and 53 yards, while the Vikings as a team held Johnson and Tate to their lowest combined output of the season (11 receptions for 91 yards).
5. Up and Down the Lineup, Vikings Backups Stepped UpThe Vikings offensive line featured three non-starters on Sunday and was going up against arguably the best defensive line in the League. But they battled tough all game, even earning post-game acknowledgement from Zimmer. Other spots where backups stepped up and played well included: RB Matt Asiata playing with physicality and consistently delivering blows and falling forward at the end of the play; the depth at defensive end (Scott Crichton, Justin Trattou and Corey Wootton) and at defensive tackle (Tom Johnson, Shamar Stephen) compensating for the loss of Sharrif Floyd; LB Gerald Hodges filling in capably for Anthony Barr; and both Antone Exum and Andrew Sendejo playing well in place of Robert Blanton. Every season, every NFL team will have to deal with injuries, often times to key players. This season, the Vikings have seen non-starters step up when called upon and demonstrate they have what it takes to play important roles on the team, either as future starters at their position or as key reserves in multiple positions.