DETROIT – The scoreboard inside Ford Field indicated the Vikings lost their season opener by 10 points. In reality, the margin of defeat felt like 30.
Adrian Peterson provided a flash bang and momentary giddiness with a 78-yard touchdown run on his first carry of 2013, but the Vikings’ collective performance pretty much fizzled after that en route to a sloppy 34-24 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Frustration flowed inside the locker room afterward, and the Vikings returned home knowing that scrutiny of Christian Ponder is certain to reach overdrive this week after the maligned quarterback provided an unsettling outing reminiscent of 2012.
This was not the encore the Vikings anticipated coming off a playoff season.
“Obviously we’re frustrated with the way we played,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “You just can’t play that way, that sloppy, and expect to get a win. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Very few positives could be found in the carnage, and the Vikings better regroup quickly because they play in Chicago next week against a Bears team that opened eyes by knocking off the trendy Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
“You start on the road with two division games, you’ve got to win one of them,” Greenway said. “We’ve got to go to Chicago and win next week, which we know how hard that is.”
Especially if they play like they did Sunday. Even more sobering is the fact the Lions did just about everything humanly possible to give the game away in the first half, and the Vikings failed to take advantage.
Ponder’s struggles headline the list of problems as he began his critical third season with a performance that did nothing to calm concerns about his growth and development. Ponder tied his career high with three interceptions and posted a 63.1 passer rating.
His most egregious mistake came late in the second quarter with the Vikings leading 14-6 and in position to possibly enter halftime with a double-digit lead. Ponder rolled to his left under pressure and was hit by Ndamukong Suh on the arm as he released the ball.
Ponder said he intended to throw the ball out of bounds to avoid a sack. Instead, the ball sailed like a baseball popup into the arms of Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch.
The Lions turned that gift into a touchdown in the final seconds and trailed only 14-13 at halftime.
“That was a pivotal point in the ball game,” Frazier said. “We were in field goal range at that point. It was a tough spot, but he was trying to get it out of bounds, was trying to throw it away and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Frazier and Ponder’s teammates defended their quarterback by noting the bevy of mistakes made all around him.
“It wasn’t all Christian,” Frazier said. “We’ve got to play better as a team.”
He’s right on that point. The offensive line failed to create any running lanes for Peterson after his 78-yard touchdown as Detroit’s physical defensive line took control.
And the defense had no answer for Reggie Bush, whose debut in Detroit ended with fans chanting “Reggie! Reggie!” every time he touched the ball. Bush rushed for 90 yards in 21 carries and caught four passes for 101 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown on a screen that gave Detroit a 10-point lead in the third quarter.
“We didn’t do a good job on the screens and the underneath stuff,” Frazier said. “We felt like they would take that approach, and we didn’t handle it very well.”
The Lions rolled up 469 total yards (357 passing by Matthew Stafford), ran 77 plays and won the time-of-possession battle by nearly 13 minutes.
“We couldn’t get off the field,” defensive end Jared Allen said. “At some point, we’ve got to make stops. I don’t know how many 10-play drives or eight-play drives they had, but it was embarrassing. It’s not indicative of who we are.”
The Lions were, well, the Lions in a particularly undisciplined first half. Their blooper reel included a botched hold on a field-goal attempt, three dropped passes, a holding penalty on a fourth-and-1 conversion, a low-block penalty on Suh that negated an interception return for a touchdown, two turnovers and seven penalties.
And the Vikings still only led by one point at halftime.
The Vikings committed two penalties — roughing the passer on Letroy Guion and pass interference on Xavier Rhodes — on third downs that kept alive Detroit’s final scoring drive in the fourth quarter. And Ponder threw an interception on the Vikings final drive.
“Not a good day for us to start out,” right tackle Phil Loadholt said.