DETROIT — The Vikings expected a battle of aggression from a Lions team determined Sunday to not allow Minnesota to win the NFC North crown in its den.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell each made aggressive calls at key junctures when the score was only a seven-point lead for Detroit, which prevailed 34-23 at Ford Field to win for the fifth time in six games.
The run game sputtered throughout the day, with the Vikings totaling just 22 yards on 17 carries. But the biggest undercut for Minnesota's offense occurred when the plan was to have Dalvin Cook attempt his first career pass.
Facing first-and-goal from the Detroit 3-yard line and trailing 14-7 late in the first half, Cook took a pitch from Kirk Cousins and advanced toward the line of scrimmage to sell the play fake. He was then supposed to throw to tight end Johnny Mundt, who was open in the end zone, but Detroit defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs defeated a block by Ed Ingram and forced Cook to fumble. The ball was returned to the 22-yard line, and the turnover prevented Minnesota from tying the score just before halftime.
"There were some positive performances from some individual players and things that gave us a chance to be in the football game, but just across the board, not enough in the run game, and we had the turnover in the low red [zone] trying to take a shot at a play right there," O'Connell said.
The first-year head coach added the play had been practiced quite a bit because coaches thought it would work if Detroit tried to sell out against the run.
"We had some interior penetration on the play. Dalvin was actually going to attempt to throw that ball," O'Connell said. "[Mundt] was open in the back of the end zone, and we just wanted to make sure, number one, that there was no penetration there, and ultimately, trying to be aggressive in that moment with the goal-line defense in there in an all-out run [defense] from the 3-yard line, and we had the play set up and just didn't execute.
"It was a critical error. I'll have to go back and look at it," He added. "I ultimately am going to rely on our guys to make that play and execute in that moment, but ultimately a huge play in the game."
It appeared Minnesota was going to be able to have another shot in the third quarter, even after going three-and-punt on its first series.
Detroit, however, went super aggressive in calling a fake punt on fourth-and-8 from its 26-yard line.
C.J. Moore, who was lined up as the personal protector, took a direct snap and rumbled 42 yards. Detroit overcame a taunting penalty at the end of the game to finish the drive with a 5-yard pass from Jared Goff to Josh Reynolds.
"Yeah, huge play. I have a lot of respect for that special teams coordinator (Dave Fipp) over there," O'Connell said. "We knew at some point, it was pretty well-documented that they were going to try to steal a possession at some point, and they were able to do that against us."
O'Connell also had been aggressive in the first quarter. After a penalty during a punt on fourth-and-6, Minnesota opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 46 less than four minutes into the game.
Detroit stuffed Cook for no gain.
Two plays later, Jameson Williams recorded his first career reception and gave the Lions their first lead of the game with a 41-yard touchdown against busted coverage by a Vikings secondary that returned cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., to the lineup for the first time since Week 9 but was without safety Harrison Smith because of a neck injury.
Minnesota never led, despite a Vikings record for a regular-season game of 223 receiving yards by Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins finishing with 425 passing yards, the most ever by a Vikings QB in a game against the Lions.
The Vikings (10-3) will host the Colts (4-8-1) at noon (CT) Saturday in their next chance to close out the division title.
"We've got to be better if we want to punch our ticket into the playoffs," O'Connell said. "We sure better have a playoff-worthy type of performance, which I did not think overall as a football team we did today, and that's ultimately something that falls on me. I can do a lot of things better myself, the coaching staff. We'll just go back to work and clean up some of the execution and be ready to be at our best [on] Saturday."