Lions quarterback Matt Stafford is known for having a strong arm, but it was his feet that caused the Vikings defense trouble on Thursday.
Linebacker Chad Greenway said following Minnesota's 16-13 loss to Detroit that Stafford has improved in being effective when the pocket breaks down.
"He's able to find an opening and he's beating us, hurting us with his feet," Greenway said. "He's been doing that a lot better this season – today he killed us about three or four different times."
Stafford rushed four times during the division-rival rematch, finishing the game with 30 yards on the ground. On two occasions, Stafford scrambled for 11 yards and 15 yards to convert crucial third downs.
Greenway said allowing Stafford to gain rushing yards was hurtful in addition to his ability to dodge defenders. After being contained by Minnesota's defense for a majority of the second half, the Lions offense came up big on a drive inside the final five minutes of the game.
Stafford was able to escape pressure and make consecutive throws for 29 and 11 yards to receivers Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones, respectively. The drive ended in a 48-yard Matt Prater field goal to tie the game at 13.
"They made the big throw, and we just didn't get him bottled up," Greenway said. "I think, really, his feet hurt us more than anything, really on that drive. It was a big third-down pickup, and then his ability to evade and get that throw off to Boldin over on the Lions sideline was as big of a play in the game [as any].
"For them to execute in critical situations and us lacking, that really was the difference," Greenway added. "But that's the NFL. They've won a bunch of tight ball games, and that's why they're leading the division and we're not."
Minnesota's defense did make a number of big plays against the Lions to help the Vikings stay in the game until the last seconds. Anthony Barr came up with a big second-down sack of Stafford in the third quarter. Detroit was unable to recover from the eight-yard loss and was forced to punt. Danielle Hunter and Andrew Sendejo later split a second sack of Stafford on an early fourth-quarter drive that also ended in a Lions punt.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks showed up several times throughout the game in a big way for the Vikings. Of his five tackles, three were third-down stops that forced the Lions into fourth-down situations.
Perhaps Kendricks' biggest play of the game arguably occurred inside the final two minutes of the game. On third-and-1 from Minnesota's 32, Stafford threw a short slant right to running back Theo Riddick. Riddick had no chance to react, as Kendricks met him with a brute force that not only stopped Riddick but knocked him back a yard.
After allowing 13 first downs and 218 net yards by the Lions in the first half, the Vikings defense limited them to five first downs and 90 net yards in the second half.
"They're a good football team, they played all three phases well, and clearly so are we, because we were in this football game until the very end," Greenway said. "For anybody to think different is crazy. We didn't win, we need some help now, but we can still control a lot. We'll see how it goes."
Detroit's series sweep of Minnesota placed the Lions at the top of the NFC North and gave them the tie-breaker over the Vikings.
Greenway said it's important now to not focus on the loss but to continue moving forward like they have all season.
"As an athlete who's been in a competitive situation before, you should understand that you're never out of it," Greenway said. "You have five games left. You never look at it like, 'Woe is me, we're down a game.'
"The reality is, you just keep fighting," Greenway added. "That's just what we do – there's no other way to look at it."