The Detroit Lions don’t have a ton of great memories on Thanksgiving, especially in recent years … or recent decades.
Darius Slay gave them one this year.
Slay had an enormous interception off Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford with 30 seconds left in a tie game and returned it to Minnesota’s 20-yard line, setting up Matt Prater’s game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired. The 16-13 win puts the 7-4 Lions in sole possession of first place in the NFC North, clinches the head-to-head tiebreaker over the 6-5 Vikings and puts Detroit in position to win its first division title since 1993, when the NFC North was the NFC Central.
The Lions have won all of their games in dramatic fashion this season, but this was probably their biggest victory of them all.
Slay’s huge play wasn’t without controversy. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson got a hand on the ball as he was bringing Slay down, and the ball started to move. It seemed like Slay might have fumbled, but he was ruled down and the play stood. The Lions took a knee to kill some clock, then Prater hit the winning field goal on the final play.
With just a few minutes left in the game, it looked like another disappointing holiday for the Lions. They had the ball on their own 2-yard line, trailing 13-10. The offense had done almost nothing in the second half. But Stafford had a remarkable throw on third down to Anquan Boldin for 29 yards. That set up a tying field goal with 1:45 left.
The Vikings appeared to pick up a third-down conversion with less than a minute left, but Patterson lined up illegally on the play. After the illegal formation penalty, Slay picked off Bradford, who the Vikings traded a first-round pick for right before the season started.
The Lions’ schedule isn’t easy the rest of the way. They still have road games left at the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. But now they have a margin for error. They lead the Vikings by a game and have the tiebreaker. They have a two-and-a-half game lead over the third-place Green Bay Packers. It’s their division to lose now.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Lions have just three division titles: 1983, 1991 and 1993.
Thanks to Slay’s Thanksgiving highlight, the Lions control the NFC North. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
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