Vikings 21, Lions 16
DETROIT (AP)—Brad Johnson heaved a pass, pumped his fist and shouted with joy.
The Minnesota Vikings are back—and Johnson is, too.
Minnesota’s mess is becoming a distant memory. Detroit’s is getting worse.
The Vikings (7-5) have won five straight, salvaging their season after a bad start and the now infamous boat party.
“We’ve gotten ourselves out of a deep, deep hole,” Johnson said. “We’re back in the ballgame, with four games left.”
Detroit (4-8) has lost five of six and didn’t seem to be sparked by Dick Jauron in his debut as interim coach. In just six weeks, the Lions have gone from sharing the division lead to being mathematically eliminated from the race.
Fed-up fans booed quarterback Jeff Garcia throughout the game, and directed their anger toward team president Matt Millen during much of the second half.
“Man, this is supposed to be our home stadium,” said receiver Roy Williams, shaking his head. “This felt like a road game.”
The Vikings appeared to be in control leading by 15 early in the third quarter after Michael Bennett’s second TD, but the Lions rallied before losing their eighth straight in the series.
Detroit drove to midfield before Garcia’s up-for-grabs lob was intercepted by leaping safety Corey Chavous at Minnesota’s 2 with 52 seconds left.
“I was glad we got back on the field because in those situations, you want an opportunity to make a play,” Chavous said.
The Lions led once—briefly. After Jason Hanson kicked a field goal on the opening drive, Johnson needed only one play to put the Vikings ahead with his long pass to Robinson.
Johnson, who was 17-for-23 for a season-high 256 yards, is 5-0 since starting in place of the injured Daunte Culpepper.
“He’s throwing it on time and he’s throwing it precise,” Robinson said. “He’s like Greg Maddux.”
Johnson has thrown eight TDs and just two interceptions after Culpepper had twice as many interceptions (12) as TDs (six) before having season-ending surgery on his right knee.
Bennett had 79 yards rushing and a 7-yard TD, and caught a 5-yard TD to give the Vikings a 21-6 lead in the third quarter. Robinson caught four passes for 148 yards, surpassing his previous season total, and a TD.
The loudest cheers at Ford Field came when a fan held a “Fire Millen” sign behind Minnesota’s bench in the third quarter.
Security scurried to take the sign away and more messages like it, but “Fire Mil-len!” chants could not be stopped. One fan amused the crowd as he ran from section to section, dodging security, holding up an anti-Millen sign.
“That was crazy stuff,” said Edinger, whose game-winning, season-ending kick while playing for Chicago led to Millen’s hiring.
The Lions are an NFL-worst 20-56 since Millen took over the franchise in 2001.
Garcia, who was cheered as Joey Harrington’s backup, was booed regularly as Jauron’s-picked starter and the rest of his teammates didn’t escape the wrath of the crowd.
“We worked on that,” Minnesota coach Mike Tice joked. “We talked about getting the crowd to boo them early.”
Garcia finished 17-of-35 for 126 yards and an interception.
“We don’t have the confidence in each other that we need to make plays,” Garcia said.
A play after Hanson’s 45-yard field goal gave Detroit its only lead, Johnson lofted a perfect pass to Robinson, who simply ran past cornerback R.W. McQuarters for the score.
“We put that play in on Thursday. We knew it was coming,” Robinson said. “They said that they wanted to go at R.W. McQuarters, and he happened to line up on me.”
It was Minnesota’s longest play of the year, and was Johnson’s longest pass since 1996.
“What a great throw from Brad. He’s having hernia surgery tomorrow,” Tice joked. “He threw that thing as far as he could throw it.”
When Garcia threw a pass at Williams’ feet on the ensuing possession, the crowd chanted “Jo-ey! Jo-ey!” in a humorous moment because those same fans have jeered Harrington throughout his career.
Detroit WR Charles Rogers, the second pick overall in 2003, was inactive despite being healthy and RB Kevin Jones (thigh) also did not play. … Kluwe and RB Mewelde Moore injured ankles during the game. … Detroit LBs Boss Bailey (ankle) and Nate Wayne (ankle) and FS Jon McGraw (shoulder) were injured. … Culpepper attended the game.