DETROIT — The Lions took the driver's seat in the NFC North with a 16-13 win over the Vikings on Thursday at Ford Field.
Detroit (7-4) distanced itself from Minnesota (6-5) in the division with its second win in the rivalry series in 18 days and its second that was decided on the final play.
This time, Matt Prater kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired after a 13-yard interception by Darius Slay, who returned the ball to the Minnesota 20.
It was just the third interception thrown this season by Bradford — all of which have come in road losses — and a painful punctuation of the struggles that the Vikings had on third downs.
Not surprisingly, the stat sheets were quite similar for a game between familiar opponents that was decided on the final play.
Rush yards: Minnesota 82 on 16 carries; Detroit 94 on 19
Quarterback pass yards: 224 for Bradford on 31-of-37 passing; 232 for Matthew Stafford on 23-of-40 passing
Both teams even had a 41-yard reception for their longest gains of the day.
Flip the page, however, and third-down conversion percentage proves decisive. Minnesota was 2-for-10 (20 percent), and Detroit was 6-of-14 (42.8 percent), including 2-of-4 in the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Stafford converted a third-and-15 with a scramble to the Vikings sideline. That drive ended with a punt but allowed the Lions to flip field position and deter the momentum the Vikings had built by holding Detroit to 0-for-2 on third downs in the fourth quarter.
Stafford also escaped pressure on third-and-8 with 3:03 to go, allowing him to connect with Anquan Boldin for a gain of 29.
The Vikings went just 1-for-4 on third downs in the fourth quarter and were unable to prevent their fifth loss in six games, including all three in November that were by six or fewer points.
The Vikings were flagged for an illegal formation, cancelling a gain of 7 on third-and-2 one play before the interception.
In a pool report gathered by Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, Carl Cheffers said: "The player that we called for an illegal formation was not on the line of scrimmage. We ruled that he was not on the line of scrimmage, he was not breaking the waistline of the snapper. Therefore, he left the tackle on that end of the line uncovered. We also only had six players on the line of scrimmage. By rule, that's an illegal formation."
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer explained that injuries led to a different personnel grouping on the play.
The Vikings were without Stefon Diggs for the whole game because of a knee injury and lost center Joe Berger to a concussion and right tackle Jeremiah Sirles to a hip injury during the game.
Chad Greenway said the multiple mistakes late in the day added to a day of missed opportunities.
"You can't have a mistake on third-and-3 or whatever that was. You can't let them drive to get a field goal late in the game," Greenway said. "Yes it's frustrating, but the last play for us doesn't mean it embodies the loss. It's four quarters of what we didn't do well enough."
Kyle Rudolph, who had nine catches for 64 yards, said the Vikings must find ways to do better in the clutch.
"You look back and look at the football team that we've become over the last three years, and we're a team that wins close games and executes in critical situations, and as much of a team win as last week was – and we executed in those critical situations – we didn't do that this week," Rudolph said. "This was a team loss – it's on each and every one of us. No one played perfect. We just have to stick together. We've got five games, and there's no reason that everything we want to attain isn't still in our grasp."
Career highs and firsts: Thielen recorded a career-high eight receptions for 53 yards as the Vikings filled in for Diggs, who caught 13 passes in the previous game against the Lions and had a big year in Detroit last season.
Rookie receiver Laquon Treadwell made his first career start. He did not record a catch but he did draw two penalties on Lions defenders early.
Willie Beavers, a fourth-round pick and Michigan native, made his NFL debut after Sirles was injured.
With three more punts downed inside an opponent's 20-yard line, Jeff Locke extended his career-best total for a season to 28.
Sacks: The Vikings sacked Stafford two times on the day. Anthony Barr recorded his second of the season on an effective blitz in the third quarter, giving him 9.5 for his career.
Andrew Sendejo and Danielle Hunter split a sack in the fourth quarter after multiple defenders pinballed the Lions quarterback. Sendejo also shared half of a sack in 2015. Hunter raised his season total to a team-leading 7.5
In the house: U.S. Bank Stadium has been praised for its outdoor-feel despite having a roof. This is achieved with clear ETFE material on 60 percent of the roof and five of the world's largest operable doors.
With the Georgia Dome in its last season of hosting the Falcons, Ford Field, which opened in 2002, will be one of two NFL stadiums with fixed roofs next season, along with the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Turkey-day Tradition: The Lions hosted their 77th Thanksgiving Day game, continuing a tradition that began in 1934 when Detroit hosted the Chicago Bears. The Lions improved to 37-38-2 all-time.
The Vikings played in their seventh Thanksgiving Day game in franchise history and fell to 5-2. Previous results:
Nov. 27, 1969: Won 27-0 at Detroit
Nov. 26, 1987: Won 44-38 in overtime at Dallas
Nov. 24, 1988: Won 23-0 at Detroit
Nov. 23, 1995: Lost 44-38 at Detroit
Nov. 26, 1998: Won 46-36 at Dallas
Nov. 23, 2000: Won 27-15 at Dallas
Up next: The Vikings can't control their own destiny but they can try to keep stride over the final five weeks of the regular season.
Detroit visits New Orleans on Dec. 4, the New York Giants on Dec. 18 and the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 26. The Lions host the Bears on Dec. 11 and the Packers on Jan. 1, 2017.
Minnesota hosts Dallas on Thursday Night Football on Dec. 1, visits Jacksonville on Dec. 11, hosts Indianapolis on Dec. 18, visits Green Bay on Dec. 24 and hosts Chicago to close out the regular season.
"We have to [shake it off mentally]. We don't have a choice," Rudolph said. "We have the best team in football coming to Minnesota in a week, and if we want to reach our goals, then we can't let this one affect us. We have to stand together as a team and get ready for the Cowboys next Thursday."