DETROIT – Mike Zimmer made not one, not two, but three changes to his offensive line to account for one injury as a 7-point favorite over a Lions team he had beaten eight straight times.
"I have to look at the tape," the Vikings coach said when asked how that shell game worked out for him in Sunday's 29-27 upset loss at Ford Field. "I just felt that would be the best option for us."
He thought wrong. Obviously.
He won't like what he sees on tape. But the previously winless Lions (1-10-1) and their typically woeful pass rush were elated — and then some — about Zimmer's decision to move Oli Udoh from right guard to his first career start at left tackle, Mason Cole from center to right guard and Garrett Bradbury from benched back to center.
The simpler alternative: Replace injured left tackle Christian Darrisaw with Rashod Hill, the veteran backup with 22 career starts, including five at left tackle this year. Hill is far from ideal, but he's still on the roster for this specific reason. At the very least, his experience should be trusted to get through a game against Detroit.
After all, the Lions came in with 16 sacks. Only Atlanta (15) had fewer.
In their last five games, the Lions had two sacks. Two. In 310 minutes of football.
Heck, against the Vikings, they had two in the first 20 minutes and three on their way to a 20-6 halftime lead.
"We didn't play well in the first half," Zimmer said.
Outside linebacker Charles Harris looked like Charles Haley coming off the edge. He had two first-half sacks, including a strip sack that set up a Lions touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins also said he had to watch the tape to explain how he was sacked thrice and hit eight times, including five in the first half.
"You have to respect an NFL pass rush," he said. "And certainly they were effective today."
Respect? Yes. Make them look like the '69 Vikings? No.
Udoh has Harris beat by 70 pounds and three inches in height. That didn't matter on one of the key plays of the game.
Trailing 7-6 from the Detroit 33 early in the second quarter, Harris got under Udoh's pads, stood him up and then raced around him to blindside Cousins. The ball squirted free and was recovered by linebacker Julian Okwara.
Three plays later, the Vikings trailed 14-6.
Three snaps later, Harris drove tight end Tyler Conklin all the way to Cousins for an easy 6-yard sack. Why Conklin is blocking Detroit's best pass rusher one-on-one while Udoh turns inside is anybody's guess.
The sack led to a punt two plays later. That set up a 13-play drive and a field goal for a 17-6 lead.
With 35 seconds left in the half, Zimmer decided to go for it on fourth-and-10 from the Lions 42. A decision he later said he regretted, "because it gave them three points."
Okwara's sack over the right side of the offensive line set up a 26-second field goal drive and a 20-6 halftime deficit.
Twenty years ago, a 5-7 Vikings team went to Ford Field in December to face an 0-12 Lions team. The Lions won 27-24, setting in motion Denny Green's firing two weeks later and causing a Lions guard named Tony Semple to say, "It feels like we just won the Super Bowl."
Similar emotions were surging through the Lions' entire franchise after Jared Goff's 11-yard walk-off touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
"I can't really explain it," Harris said. "Guys were dancing, high-fiving. Shoot, I don't know if anyone was able to process anything [coach Dan Campbell] was saying because everybody was so happy and elated."
Meanwhile, this Vikings loss feels different for obvious reasons. It replaces last year's Christmas Day debacle in New Orleans as Zimmer's low point in Minnesota.
"We probably didn't play well enough to win today," Zimmer said.
That might be the understatement of the year.