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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Defense Stops Lions Comeback Drives in the Clutch

Detroit's offense was starting to rev its engine and thinking of a comeback drive that defined so many of their games in 2016, including both matchups against Minnesota.

The Vikings defense, however, came through with significant plays in the clutch to preserve a 30-23 victory on Thursday at Ford Field in the first game of an NFL tripleheader.

The clincher was Xavier Rhodes intercepting Matthew Stafford's pass to Marvin Jones, Jr. on a fourth-and-7. Rhodes returned the ball 21 yards to the Detroit 16 with 2:50 remaining.

"I saw the ball in the air and had a feeling he was going to try to come back and get it," Rhodes said. "It was all instincts. I just went and got it."

The turnover enabled the Vikings to eventually run out the clock, improve to 9-2 with their seventh straight win and stay in the driver's seat in the NFC North standings.

"Xavier's interception was unbelievable," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "I thought it was an outstanding interception. It was fourth down, but still it was a great interception."

It also was redeeming for Rhodes on a day when the corner was flagged for pass interference, a 22-yard penalty that set up Detroit's first touchdown, and saw Jones reel in a 43-yard touchdown during a play when Minnesota illegally had a 12th defender on the field while trying to make a substitution.

"We just won the game. That's all that matters," Rhodes said. "It's not an individual thing or me worrying about my stats, it's more about us winning the game. I'm happier about getting the pick to seal the game rather than Marvin catching balls and referees throwing flags on me, but it's a team effort. I helped the team win, and I'm proud of that."

Jones finished with six catches for 109 yards, becoming the first opposing receiver to have 100 or more yards against the Vikings in 2017.

Zimmer said that's a credit to Stafford and Jones.

"Well you know, they made some outstanding [plays]," Zimmer said. "Marvin Jones made some great catches. That's what he does. Marvin makes some great catches. I don't think Stafford's afraid to throw the ball anywhere; he trusts his guys. So I think Xavier got a little frustrated with the one penalty, but he's an awfully good competitor. That play he made on the fourth down was outstanding."

One defensive play obviously wasn't enough to set the tone, build a lead or protect it.

Earlier in the fourth quarter, the Lions trailed by four with a little more than six minutes remaining and faced a third-and-3. Stafford completed a pass to Golden Tate, but Anthony Barr quickly deciphered where Stafford was going with the ball and was waiting.

Tate opted to try to find room, but the linebacker took down the receiver a yard shy of the line-to-gain and force a punt.

"I was reading the quarterback's eyes," Barr said. "I knew the ball was coming out, so I kind of took off before the throw and put myself in position to make a play.

"Any time they're in an empty formation, you think the ball is coming out quickly," Barr added.

The Vikings limited the Lions to 3-for-11 on third downs for the game, and Rhodes had an impressive tackle of Jones to force a quick three-and-punt on Detroit's opening drive.

The Vikings offense responded with a touchdown on its opening drive, converting three third downs along the way, and quickly added another score after Stafford and Ameer Abdullah fumbled a handoff that was recovered by Danielle Hunter.

Festive celebration

Vikings quarterback Case Keenum outdueled Stafford, his fellow Texas native. Keenum completed 21 of 30 passes for 282 yards with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 121.8. Keenum also totaled 20 yards rushing on seven carries that included a 9-yard touchdown run and two kneeldowns in the victory formation.

Stafford was a respectable 20-of-35 passing for 250 yards with two scores and the pick for a rating of 86.6.

Asked to explain his success this season, Keenum kind of shrugged off the question as comfortably as he's shaken defenders to extend plays.

"I'm enjoying being a Viking," Keenum said. "This squad is incredible. I'm having a lot of fun playing football.

"I grew up getting yelled at to come in and eat Thanksgiving dinner because I was out in the yard playing ball with my friends or family, so to be able to come and play real football and play against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, it's awesome."

Keenum was invited to the Vikings improvised dinner table — in the end zone — after scoring on his first rushing touchdown in Purple.

Players acted like they were sitting down to eat as Stefon Diggs brought the football and posed as a the traditional centerpiece entrée turkey.

"I was very glad [to be invited]. Executed well," Keenum said. "I didn't even notice that Diggsy went in the middle with the turkey, but yeah, it's just another one we talked about.

"I think the rule change is great. You get to have celebrations like that, it's a lot of fun," Keenum added. "I talked about being a kid, playing on Thanksgiving in my yard, I'm sure there's kids out there going and doing the same thing, dreaming of doing what we're doing. It's pretty cool that we're getting to live the dream."

Sack Daddy's back

Everson Griffen celebrated the birth of his third son on Thursday morning before the game and wound up recording two sacks on the day. Griffen, known as the "Sack Daddy" had an incredibly unique appeal to fans after his first sack, flashing a message on his undershirt.

Griffen has 12 sacks on the season, equaling the most he's recorded in a year.

Hunter's streak

Hunter has now recorded a sack in three straight games. The third-year pro has 6.0 sacks on the season and has recorded four in his past five games.

Thielen still grooving

Adam Thielen continued his streak of at least five receptions in every game this season. He finished with eight catches and 89 yards, including an important trifecta.

Thielen has 70 receptions and 1,005 receiving yards on the season and became the first Vikings receiver with more than 1,000 yards in a season since Sidney Rice in 2009.

Thielen is the fourth receiver in Vikings history to record 1,000 or more yards in the team's first 11 games of a season.

Vroom

The Vikings covered 75 yards on just four plays to open the second half with a touchdown.

Latavius Murray surged through the left side of the line for a gain of 46 to open the half, and Jerick McKinnon followed with gains of 16 and 11 to set up a 2-yard touchdown by Murray.

Murray's 46er was a season long for him and is tied for second-longest in Vikings history on Thanksgiving.

Sendejo, Robison return to action

After missing Sunday's game against the Rams, safety Andrew Sendejo and defensive end Brian Robison returned to the lineup.

30 and 400

The Vikings have scored 30 or more points this season four times after hitting the mark just three times in 2016.

Minnesota also posted more than 400 yards of offense for the third consecutive week.

What the win means

The Vikings now have a three-game lead over the Lions (6-5) with five games to play and avoided a situation in which a head-to-head tiebreaker in Detroit's favor could have proven detrimental in the division race.

Green Bay entered Week 12 at 5-5, and Chicago is 3-7. The Packers will play the Steelers (8-2) on Sunday Night Football, and the Bears will visit the Eagles (9-1).

The Vikings 

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