Tight end Irv Smith Jr.’s versatile role for the Vikings offense produced two goal-line touchdowns during Sunday’s 34-20 win against the Lions. But Smith did not return after his second score and dance celebration in the third quarter, watching the rest of the second half from the sideline.
Smith hopped onto the trainer’s table afterward as the Vikings medical staff appeared to talk through a lower-body issue. The team did not announce an injury for Smith, who scored the second of his two touchdowns after faking a lead block for Dalvin Cook and catching a 2-yard pass in the flat.
“Irv believes now that he can really play this game and play this game at a high level,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s always run good routes, he’s always caught the ball well. Probably his blocking is getting better and better.”
Smith benefited from the Vikings’ run-heavy attack, leaking out of a three-tight end formation near the goal line for his first touchdown on a 9-yard catch. Both scores came off play-action passes.
“It’s a great reminder to everybody on the outside of the player that Irv is,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “At any time, [the tight ends] can help us. It’s just a matter of the plays that get called and the way the defense chooses to defend those plays, and then the ball gets distributed accordingly.”
The Lions were already shorthanded before Sunday, and then they lost quarterback Matthew Stafford to the concussion protocol and cornerback Jeff Okudah to an ankle injury in the second half.
Stafford, who was deemed a close contact and didn’t practice during the week because of COVID-19 isolation protocols, was pulled in the fourth quarter after a collision with Vikings nose tackle Armon Watts. He was replaced by Chase Daniel. The Lions announced Stafford cleared testing after the game.
Detroit did not have top receiver Kenny Golladay (hip), guard Joe Dahl (back), defensive back Tracy Walker (foot) and defensive end Trey Flowers (injured reserve).
Two blocked punts
Special teams left a lot to be desired after the Lions blocked two Britton Colquitt punts in the second half.
Lions defensive end Austin Bryant evaded running back Mike Boone for the first block off the edge, but linebacker Eric Kendricks intercepted Stafford’s pass in the end zone on the ensuing series.
Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara blocked the second punt while rushing up the middle between long snapper Austin Cutting and rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum. Daniel threw a 2-yard touchdown to tight end T.J. Hockenson on the next play.
“Unfortunately, the special teams wasn’t very good today,” Zimmer said. “We’re going to have to get better there.”
Jones makes debut
Cornerback Chris Jones made his debut for the Vikings’ shorthanded secondary.
Jones, a waiver claim from the Lions, was the third corner in nickel packages, joining Jeff Gladney and Kris Boyd. He had three tackles and was flagged for interference. Four other corners were unavailable: Holton Hill (foot), Cameron Dantzler (concussion), Mike Hughes (IR/neck) and Mark Fields (IR/chest).
“He played pretty well,” Zimmer said. “Glad he was in there.”
Rookie Harrison Hand was available but did not play. Hand had been limited with a hamstring injury but suited up as an apparent backup option.
Honoring Sid Hartman
The Vikings paid tribute to Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman during the first home game at U.S. Bank Stadium since he died last month at 100. Hartman graced the scoreboard before kickoff and the cover of the Vikings’ pregame manual. Flowers, his trademark cassette recorder, a media pass and a photo were displayed at his seat in the press box.