DETROIT — The Vikings defense rose up time and time again in the first half Sunday, keeping the Lions offense at bay in a game that could have easily swung the other way.
Minnesota limited Detroit to three field goals on the Lions first five possessions before the Vikings rallied for a 27-9 win at Ford Field.
But the Vikings defense knew that as long as they surrendered three points instead of seven, the chance for a win could still fall Minnesota's way.
"Those things add up, and the game goes on. The game will unfold differently if you're up two scores as opposed to one," said Vikings safety Harrison Smith. "Things can change pretty dramatically when the score gets [up there]."
Added Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson: "It was huge. It was a bend-not-break defense, and us not giving up touchdowns is huge. A deficit of nine and a deficit of 21 is so different in the game."
And although the Vikings trailed 9-0 with just four minutes left in the second half, the pendulum swung quickly the other way as Minnesota rattled off 27 unanswered points.
Thanks in part to a defense that did its job early before dominating late.
"In this game, it's all about not allowing them to score [touchdowns], and we didn't allow them to score," said Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen. "Our D stood up and stopped them from scoring and gave our offense time to catch their rhythm and they did."
Minnesota's defense gave up just 223 yards to the Lions offense, 149 of which came on six possessions in the first half. The Vikings lost the field-position game early.
Detroit's longest drive in terms of net yards Sunday was just 36, as the Lions averaged less than 19 yards per possession.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer offered up his assessment of the defense.
"We're playing good on defense. I didn't think we played great today on defense. I thought we played good; I thought we played solid," Zimmer said. "We had some tackles for loss and some things like that that helped.
"But you know, they were getting some yards on the runs, they were using that big guy [extra offensive lineman] in there, and I didn't do a good job of scheming that up, I don't think. If it happens again, I'll do a better job," Zimmer added. "Guys were playing hard. I think we're doing a pretty good job in coverage. They wanted to throw some screens and runs on third downs to keep us out of a lot of the pressure stuff we do … I thought we handled a lot of those things pretty well."
The Vikings racked up a franchise-record 10 sacks in Week 9 against Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
This time, the Lions loaded up their protection near the line of scrimmage, limiting Minnesota to two sacks of Stafford (one by Everson Griffen and one by Eric Wilson). Matt Cassel replaced Stafford in the fourth quarter and was sacked once by Minnesota's Kentrell Brothers.
"They were smart and tried to run the ball more and tried to eliminate the pass rush. When they did throw, they ended up having seven to block four," Johnson said. "So we just let our coverage work and get as much pressure as possible. It ended up working for us because I don't think they scored … they only had field goals."
Added Griffen: "It was four-man rush, and they had seven guys in to protect, so it was kind of hard for us to get to him. We just kept on pinning our ears back and kept on rushing. Eventually we got some good hits on him."
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday.
The Vikings were also their usual selves on third downs, as Detroit converted just 4-of-16 tries on that down. The Lions were also 1-for-3 on fourth downs.
Minnesota is now 8-6-1 on the season as it prepares to come home in Week 17 and face the Bears.
If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs as a Wild Card team.
"That's why you play," Smith said. "Those are the games you want to play in."
Added Griffen: "We just got to do our job and win."