After a slow offensive start at Detroit, Minnesota found momentum late in the second quarter and rode it into a second half of success.
One of the facets of the game that greatly improved for the Vikings was the run. After just 22 net rushing yards in the first half, Minnesota finished the outing with exactly 100 rushing yards.
According to its postgame reaction piece called "Re-Focused," analytics site Pro Football Focus said that was a major key to the Vikings division win on the road. The PFF team wrote:
Dalvin Cook changes the Vikings rushing attack significantly. His vision and burst on outside zone runs puts the offense ahead of the chains, setting up manageable down and distances. It also opens up the play-action game, on which much of the offensive success depends. The Vikings opened the game with play action, coming back to the same look but this time handing off on the ensuing play. Perhaps it took time for the offense to lay the traps they used so well later in the game, but Cook's contribution cannot be overstated. He wore down the Lions, allowing Minnesota to pull away.
Discovering the ground attack allowed the Vikings to control the game, helping them to a five-point halftime lead despite four three-and-outs. The deep play-action game opened up after that.
PFF also highlighted the career outing by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who "slashed Detroit's aggressive defense" on a number of plays and came down with a 44-yard Hail Mary to give Minnesota a 14-9 lead at halftime.
On the Vikings defense, PFF pointed out the performances of rookie cornerback Holton Hill and Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith.
The Vikings had some struggles with Kenny Golladay early, but once they switched Holton Hill onto him, Detroit's lone receiving threat was nullified. Hill did an excellent job of staying physical to prevent separation, all while not getting too handsy and taking penalties downfield.
Harrison Smith lived at the line of scrimmage and made life miserable for the Lions on both run and pass plays. He notched multiple run stops and even batted down a ball on a pass rush.
Complementary football lifted Minnesota over division-rival Detroit
Although it took a little while for Minnesota's offense to get going, it was able to so quickly get in the game and take a lead because of its counterparts on defense.
In NFL.com's "What We Learned" observations from the Week 16 matchups, the Vikings complementary football was spotlighted. Kevin Patra wrote:
_A sleepy offensive start put the Vikings in an early 9-0 hole before Kirk Cousins & Co. woke up. […] Credit the Viking D for holding Detroit to three field goals to give the offense a chance to find its groove. Find it they did. Minnesota closed out the first half with back-to-back touchdowns in the final 1:32 to take control. Cousins took advantage of a blown coverage on Adam Thielen for a 40-yard gain to set up a Stefon Diggs score. Kyle Rudolph then skied for a half-ending 44-yard Hail Mary touchdown that stole any momentum Detroit might have gained early. In the second half, Dalvin Cook finally heated up, bludgeoning Detroit's D as the Vikings squeezed the life out of a cratering Lions team, scoring 27 straight points to close the game. _
Patra said that it "wasn't a crisp game" for the Vikings, but nonetheless, the win was effective and brought Minnesota one step closer in its postseason pursuit.
[Vikings Head Coach Mike] Zimmer's defense held the Lions out of the end zone for the second time on the year, completely smothering Matthew Stafford in the final two quarters. Heading into Week 17, Minnesota hangs onto playoff positioning. With the Philadelphia Eagles come-from-behind victory over Houston, however, the Vikings did not clinch a postseason berth with Sunday's win. Minnesota will host the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears in the season finale with a playoff spot on the line.
Vikings overcame penalties en route to win
The Star Tribune's Mark Craig on Sunday night posted his weekly "five extra points" article in which he offers takeaways from the day's game.
Leading Craig's observations was the way the Vikings overcame penalties en route to their 27-9 defeat of the Lions. Minnesota was flagged 11 times for 78 yards. Craig wrote:
Nose tackle Linval Joseph looked up, shook his head and said, "Penalties killed us, man." Actually, they didn't, not in a 27-9 victory over the Lions at Ford Field. Yes, the Vikings committed a season-high 11 penalties for a season-high 78 yards. But they kept coming back. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were flagged for illegal contact on the same third-down play [only one could be accepted]. The Vikings held Detroit to a field goal. Mike Remmers held with 18 seconds left in the first half. That gave the Vikings first-and-20 at their own 38. Three snaps later, the Vikings scored on a 44-yard Hail Mary as the half expired. Later, Aldrick Robinson's illegal block negated a 21-yard touchdown. No problem. Two snaps later, the Vikings reached the end zone again.
Craig delved into the Vikings running game, Golladay's performance against Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes and a second-down play that Cousins was sacked on. Craig also praised second-year linebacker Eric Wilson, who played in place of an injured Eric Kendricks.
The Vikings played this game without the guy who has led them in tackles in each of his first four NFL seasons. […] Playing in the base and the nickel, Wilson tied for the team lead in tackles (seven) while notching a sack and three tackles for loss. He was out of position on the Lions first third-down play, which led to a 29-yard run. But on Detroit's second third-down play, he read a screen perfectly and made his first tackle for loss. Wilson also had two tackles on punt coverage, including one for a 5-yard gain when it appeared Matt Wile had outkicked his coverage on a 58-yarder.