The Detroit Lions gained only 98 yards in total offense through the first three quarters of the Vikings’ 20-7 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, and coach Mike Zimmer said his defense has started to look more like the club he is used to seeing.
“I thought we played the run well in a seven-man box,” he said. “I thought we harassed the quarterback pretty good. I thought we rerouted receivers pretty well when we needed to, and I think for the most part we were in the right position on their wide receivers. We have been working really hard, and we’re going to continue to work really hard on getting this thing back going the right way.”
The Vikings did surrender big yardage in the fourth quarter — including a 12-play, 75-yard drive that led to Detroit’s only points with just 2 minutes, 9 seconds left.
But still, the Lions’ 231 yards of total offense were a season low and far behind the 433 yards they gained at home vs. the Vikings in Week 7.
“I thought we were better, we played more disciplined, I thought we played more technique,” Zimmer said. “I thought it looks like we’re getting better in pass coverage, again.”
The only downside defensively was that final scoring drive, as the Vikings were looking to get their second shutout under Zimmer (the Vikings blanked the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers 16-0 on Dec. 23, 2017).
“We gave up that touchdown at the end,” Zimmer said. “I wish we wouldn’t have because defensively I thought we played well today.”
The Lions have lost nine games, but seven of those have been by eight points or fewer — the only team to beat them by more than one score is the Vikings, who have now done it twice.
“If you look at their scores, every game has been close except the game we played,” Zimmer said.
Game turned on sack
The biggest play of the game came with 1:10 left in the second quarter with the Vikings leading 10-0.
The Lions were marching toward what looked like a sure touchdown. But on third-and-2 at the Vikings 15-yard-line, Danielle Hunter sacked Lions quarterback David Blough for a 12-yard loss, and that pushed Detroit’s field goal attempt back to 45 yards.
Matt Prater missed the kick, and the Vikings scored six plays later on a Dalvin Cook 3-yard run after Stefon Diggs caught a 44-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to set it up.
“That was big; that kicker is usually a really good kicker, too,” Zimmer said. “But it was just a good, solid overall game for us.”
The Vikings finished with five sacks, including three by Hunter, and also got interceptions from Andrew Sendejo and Harrison Smith, who finished with three tackles, including one for loss, and two pass deflections.
“That was a really good interception he made,” Zimmer said. “Harrison is a great kid.”
Tale of two halves
The Vikings didn’t look like a dominating team in the second half, but they had done enough in taking a 17-0 lead in the first half to win.
Cousins was excellent to start the game, completing 17 of 20 passes for 182 yards and a score in the first half.
“That’s a good half, that’s perfect,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t turn the ball over today, they had two. You know Kirk has been playing very efficient, doing the things that we’re trying to get him to do.”
Zimmer said Cousins’ 60 passing yards total in the second half might have been hurt by conservative play-calling. But the Vikings continue to find ways to pass the ball efficiently with Adam Thielen out. On Sunday they had 11 players catch passes, including rookie center Garrett Bradbury off a deflection.
The player who has had to step up the most without Thielen has been Diggs, who once again had a great game with game highs in receptions (six) and receiving yards (92).
“He keeps making plays, doesn’t he?” Zimmer said. “He had a one-on-one shot there right before the half, and it was nice to see Kirk made a good throw and Diggsy made a great catch.”
The victory will do a lot to restore the Vikings’ confidence, but if they want to win the NFC North they are going to have to win every game the rest of the way, starting with the Chargers in L.A. on Sunday, followed by back-to-back home games against the Packers and Bears.
Gophers’ big bowl
The No. 18 Gophers might struggle against No. 12 Auburn in the Outback Bowl, and oddsmakers put them as 10-point underdogs.
You can see why, because the Tigers started the year beating Oregon 27-21 and now the Ducks, ranked No. 6, are going to face Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
Then Auburn ended Alabama’s hopes of playing for the national championship with a 48-45 victory at home in an Iron Bowl in which the Tigers had two interception returns for TDs.
The Tigers also beat Texas A&M, and their three losses came to, at the time, No. 10 Florida, No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Georgia.
But this bowl is a big deal for the Gophers and the Big Ten. Last year the payout to Iowa and Mississippi State for their appearance in the Outback Bowl was $6.5 million, split between the two teams.
The Gophers’ Quick Lane bowl game with Georgia Tech last year brought the school just $750,000.
The Gophers will split the revenue from the bowl game payout evenly with the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, coach P.J. Fleck said that he watched the Big Ten Championship Game between Ohio State and Wisconsin and said the fact that the Badgers broke out to a 21-7 lead and Ohio State answered to win 34-21 showed how high the talent level is in the conference.
“Wisconsin is a really good football team, and I think they showed in the first half exactly how good of a football team they truly are,” Fleck said. “They deserve a lot of credit for all the things that will come their way. ... Those are two really good Big Ten football teams, and I think we showed the power of our conference last night.”
One big thing that will happen between now and the bowl game is the new early national signing period, which opens Dec. 18.
“We have been out recruiting,” Fleck said. “Our players had the whole week off — they have a list of things to do academically in terms of getting everything straight. Last week was kind of a decompress week. Get everybody healthy, and it was all about our players, keeping them emotionally and physically healthy.
“But we practiced this afternoon [Sunday], which is really good to get them back, and all the coaches are back, and we’ll go back out recruiting [Sunday night].”