MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Trailing by 14 points to start the fourth quarter against hapless Detroit, somebody on the Minnesota Vikings had to put the ball in the end zone.
The offense sure wasn’t having much luck, so the defense took over, delivering an effort that would make the old Purple People Eaters proud.
The Vikings scored two defensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter to rescue the struggling offense, turning a 17-3 deficit into a 26-17 victory.
“Every time we take the field, we try to score or get the ball back,” defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin said. “That’s our personality. That’s how we play defense.”
Kitna, trying to bring Detroit back, was flushed out of the pocket and corralled by Ray Edwards before desperately shoveling the ball toward the line of scrimmage. The pass landed right in E.J. Henderson’s hands, and the linebacker raced 45 yards to seal the win.
Minnesota’s defense has scored three touchdowns this season, one fewer than the offense through the first five weeks, conjuring memories of the unit that led the Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances in the 1970s.
“That’s unbelievable,” center Matt Birk said. “They’re keeping us in games.”
It was a stunning, but not surprising, turnaround that kept the Lions (0-5) winless and continued their misery against the Vikings. They have lost nine straight to Minnesota (3-2), dating to 2001.
Detroit hired coach Rod Marinelli and jettisoned first-round bust Joey Harrington for the steady veteran Kitna in the offseason, hoping the changes would finally turn around a team that has the worst record in the NFL (21-64) since 2001. But the Lions keep finding ways to give away games, and this one was ripe for the taking.
“You’ve got to be able to do a better job in that fourth quarter to secure and hold the lead, protect the football and do the things I talked about all week,” Marinelli said. “We weren’t able to do that today, and we’ve got to go back to work.”
Of course it didn’t help when receiver Roy Williams (back stinger) and guard Damien Woody (left leg) left the game on the first possession with injuries, but the Lions are used to being on the short end these days.
“We’re struggling right now,” said Kitna, who sat at his locker with his head down and eyes glazed over, contemplating the latest loss in a season full of them. “We’re a beat-up team, but nobody gives a crap. We have to find a way to win.”
In a first half filled with penalties, dropped passes and turnovers, the Lions took a 10-3 lead on the strength of Kitna’s 8-yard TD run.
Minnesota’s second turnover of the game, a fumble by Travis Taylor close to midfield, set up Kitna’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Dan Campbell that gave the Lions a 17-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
With the Lions defense dominating a struggling Vikings offense, the game looked well in hand.
Brad Johnson completed his first eight passes, but most were dinks and dunks in the West Coast offense that got the Vikings nowhere. He was booed heavily through the first three quarters and looked every bit his 38 years of age while one-hopping passes to open receivers.
As they have all season, the Vikings leaned heavily on running back Chester Taylor and a stingy defense to keep things close.
Taylor rushed for 123 yards in another workhorse effort and the Vikings’ defense sacked Kitna five times, intercepted him on three occasions and held the Lions to 217 total yards, 16 on the ground. The Vikings offense finally got in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter after a 68-yard drive that was aided by a roughing-the-passer call on Shaun Rogers.
Johnson, 26-of-34 for 201 yards, hit Travis Taylor on a 3-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 17-10.
After a block-in-the-back penalty on Donte Curry nullified Eddie Drummond’s kick return for a touchdown, the Lions put the Vikings right back in it. On second-and-6 from the Detroit 14, Pat Williams burst through the line untouched and engulfed Kitna, forcing a fumble that Leber scooped up at the goal line for a touchdown.
Jared DeVries blocked Ryan Longwell’s extra point to hold the Lions’ lead at 17-16, but it was all downhill from there for Detroit.
“It was over for them after that,” Williams said. “They basically could’ve called it quits.”
Detroit RB Kevin Jones rushed for eight yards on 10 carries and suffered a concussion late in the game. DL Shaun Cody had a dislocated toe and LB Paris Lenon also injured his neck. Marinelli said all will be evaluated on Monday. … Chester Taylor also had five catches for 31 yards. … Vikings DT Kevin Williams set the tone early with two tackles for loss and a sack on the first series.