DETROIT – Stop me if you've heard this one before – it all came down to the final play for Minnesota.
Unfortunately, though, the Vikings ended up on the wrong side this time, falling 29-27 to the previously winless Lions.
Minnesota at one point trailed 20-6, allowing Detroit 20 unanswered points. But the Vikings clawed their way back, and a touchdown by Justin Jefferson gave them a 27-23 lead with just 1:50 left in the game.
The Lions being out of timeouts certainly should have worked in the Vikings favor, as Detroit's offense was forced into hurry-up mode. But time and time again, the NFC North rival notched first downs and moved down the field.
On third-and-10 from the Detroit 36, Lions quarterback Jared Goff connected over the middle with Godwin Igwebuike for a 13-yard gain.
The Vikings then gave up back-to-back 9-yard catches to KhaDarel Hodge and Amon-Ra St. Brown.
With 23 seconds left, Detroit was flagged for delay of game, making it third-and-6 from the Minnesota 29. Goff found tight end T.J. Hockenson for another 10 yards. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, the Lions were looking at second-and-10 from the 19.
St. Brown made an 11-yard catch before being pushed out of bounds by Vikings cornerback Bashaud Breeland, and Goff's next throw to Josh Reynolds fell incomplete.
And then, the final play: Four seconds remaining, fourth-and-2 from the 11.
Vikings fans around the world collectively held their breath and watched as Goff fired a pass into the end zone. Touchdown, St. Brown. Lions win.
"We were just too soft on them," safety Harrison Smith said. "Let them get out of bounds a couple times. That was pretty much it."
He added specifically of the final throw: "I'd have to see the whole deal [on film]. It looked like a good throw, fit it in, we've obviously got to be tighter. Can't give them the goal line there."
Cameron Dantzler, who earlier in the quarter had intercepted Goff, was in coverage on the play.
"Yeah, he was supposed to be off, but I couldn't tell exactly where his inside help was or not," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said.
"We didn't start the game well enough to really play as well as we could have," Zimmer said in his opening statement. "We came back and played better in the second half, but obviously the end-of-game situations … like I told the team, 'You played all these close games, it's going to come down to either win or lose.' And, uh, that's just the way the NFL is."
Minnesota's defense certainly was a different story in the second half compared to the first two quarters, during which the Vikings gave up 185 passing yards and two scores through the air. They also allowed the Lions 59 yards rushing without their starting running back, D'Andre Swift.
View game action photos between the Vikings and Lions during the Week 13 matchup at Ford Field.
The Vikings once again allowed their opponent to score within the final two minutes of the first half, allowing a 31-yard field goal with 1:33 remaining after a drive that lasted 5:33. The offense stalled on its ensuing possession, and Detroit added a 41-yard field goal with 0:06 left in the first half.
Minnesota's offense got it going with two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, but the team faltered down the stretch and watched Detroit take back the lead in 1:50?
It starts to feel unexplainable.
"That's been an area we've struggled in all year, and it bit us today. We've got to fix it," Smith said.
Asked about the adjustments Minnesota did make coming out of halftime, Smith said the following:
"It started with slowing the run game down and playing well on third down," he noted. "We did for much of the second half, but kind of the two-minute and end-of-half area, it's our Achilles heel right now."
The Vikings continue to be shorthanded defensively, despite getting back Dalvin Tomlinson, who left with an injury but returned, and Michael Pierce. Minnesota is without Danielle Hunter (Injured Reserve), Everson Griffen (Non-football Illness) and Patrick Peterson (Reserve/COVID-19). The Vikings also had to play without starting linebackers Eric Kendricks (biceps) and Anthony Barr (hamstring/knee), whose absences were felt.
But teams all across the league are battling similar situations right now, and the Vikings know they can't make excuses.
"It's part of the game. It's how everybody is this time of year," Smith said. "You can always make an excuse if you want, it doesn't matter. You have to find a way to win."
Sunday's loss would have hurt no matter what, dropping the Vikings to 5-7 on the season and damaging their playoff chances. But defensively, it stings even more after battling back and creating a few turnovers to put Minnesota in position for a comeback win.
In addition to Dantzler's pick, linebacker Blake Lynch forced and recovered a fumble by Goff. Minnesota totaled three sacks on the day.
Did it seem like momentum was starting to swing back the Vikings way?
"It could've been, if we'd capitalized on the last drive there, and we didn't," Smith said. "We put ourselves in a favorable position, and we didn't execute when we needed to in the end."
The Vikings have no choice but to turn the page quickly, with a Thursday Night Football game against the Steelers just four days away.
"You've got to move on. You've got to move on to the next opponent," Smith said. "Personally, I carry losses with me. I know you're supposed to have a 24-hour rule, but if you don't take things personally in this league, you're not going to be here very long."