FIRST DOWN: FINAL DRIVE
Good teams are able to overcome mistakes and give themselves a chance to win.
The Lions obviously haven't done enough of that this season, but after consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter in which Lions quarterback Jared Goff turned the ball over, giving Minnesota an opportunity to take a late lead, Goff had one minute and 50 seconds to atone for his mistakes.
Goff stepped into the huddle and went to work with no timeouts left and 75 yards between the line of scrimmage and end zone, needing a touchdown to win. He used the sideline and killed the clock, methodically moving the ball 64 yards down to the Minnesota 11-yard line in one minute and 46 seconds.
With four seconds left, head coach Dan Campbell called a play the Lions have been working on since training camp for that situation and the coverage the Vikings showed. They had just recently moved rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown into the main target role on the outside on the play.
After getting the coverage they were looking for, Goff threw a dart to St. Brown where only he could catch it low and in the end zone, and the celebration at Ford Field begun, as the Lions walked off 29-27 winners for the first time this season.
Goff completed nine passes to five different receivers on the drive for 75 yards and a touchdown. He threw three touchdowns total in the game.
"It was as good as you can do it I think for us offensively," Goff said of the final drive. "We were able to walk down the field there on them and make that play at the end. It came down to one play and we were able to make it.
"I think the theme of what I speak about is the fact that we made some mistakes, we weren't perfect. We played well in the first half, but that second half offensively we stalled, I threw the pick, had the fourth-down turnover, we weren't perfect, but having the ability to overcome mistakes is a sign of a good team and a winning team and that's something we did today."
SECOND DOWN: OXFORD STRONG
Dan Campbell walked to the postgame podium with the game ball tucked under his arm after securing his first victory as the head coach of the Detroit Lions. He started his press conference by saying he and the team were dedicating the ball to the community of Oxford, who have been through a lot this week after four students were killed and seven others injured in a school shooting at the high school on Tuesday.
Lions players and coaches really wanted to come out today and get a win for Oxford.
Goff became emotional at the podium talking about Sunday's win and what it meant after dedicating the game to the Oxford community. The Lions wore helmet decals, along with T-shirts and hats pregame in support of Oxford. Goff said with Michigan's win in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, and the Lions getting their first win Sunday, he hoped for a few hours those in the Oxford community could maybe take their minds off the tragedy for a bit.
Campbell echoed that sentiment.
"My thought was, 'Hey man, if we can for three hours just ease their suffering a little bit, that's worth it. That's worth it,'" Campbell said. "And so that's kind of how I thought of this and we just did a great job. Players, they responded, played well."
THIRD DOWN: TWO-POINT DEFENSE
Not once, not twice, but three times Sunday the Lions' defense stopped the Vikings' offense on two-point tries following touchdowns.
With the Lions leading 20-9 in the third quarter, Minnesota got their first touchdown of the game on an Alexander Mattison 8-yard run. Trying to make the score 20-17, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer opted to go for two points. They handed the ball off to running back Kene Nwangwu off right tackle and the Lions rallied to the ball and stuffed it short.
Detroit was leading 23-15 when Minnesota scored again on a short pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Down 23-21, Minnesota went for two and the tie. This time they tried Alexander off right tackle and again the Lions rallied to the ball to keep him short of the goal line.
Minnesota took the lead on a Cousins to wide receiver Justin Jefferson 3-yard scoring strike late in the fourth quarter to take a 27-23 lead. Again, Zimmer opted to go for two to try and make it a six-point game that would force the Lions to make an extra point to win if they scored late. Cousins to Jefferson was no good for the two points.
"You have to make big-time plays in critical situations like that," said rookie linebacker Derrick Barnes, who made the play on the second failed two-point try. "Right before the play I told myself, 'Why not me? Why can't I make this stop?'"
Had Minnesota converted those two-point tries, we would be talking about a very different game at the end.
"Yeah, they weren't very good, I didn't think," Zimmer said of the two-point plays after the game. "You know we tried to run it and smash it down their throats from the one-yard line. Then we tried to hand the ball off to Kene (Nwangwu). So those weren't the best."
FOURTH DOWN: AIRING IT OUT
The Lions came into Sunday having converted on just five throws that traveled at least 21 yards in the air on the season, with one touchdown on those throws, last week's 39-yarder from Goff to wide receiver Josh Reynolds.
Campbell said he planned to be more aggressive heading into Sunday's matchup against a Minnesota defense dealing with injuries and ranked 30th in the league in total defense and scoring defense.
With Goff now three weeks removed from a strained oblique and not having the services of star running back D'Andre Swift, Campbell knew he had to lean on the receivers and tight ends to make plays down the field in the passing game, and they did.
Goff hit tight end T.J. Hockenson on a 25-yard pass down the middle on Detroit's first touchdown drive. Campbell said Hockenson was Goff's second read on the play, which shows how Goff was seeing the field well early and working through his progressions. That set up a 9-yard strike to Hockenson for a touchdown a few plays later.
On Detroit's next drive, Goff connected on a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brock Wright that Goff fit into a very tight window.
"It was a perfect throw by Jared (Goff)," Wright said. "You know, he played so well today. All of us played a complementary game. It feels awesome to be a part of that win."
Goff connected with Reynolds on a couple deep passes of 25 and 27 yards in the game. He also hit wide receiver Kalif Raymond on a 24-yard strike. More than any other game this year, the Lions pushed the ball down the field in the passing game, and it's no surprise they scored their second highest point total of the season.
"We tried to really – we're trying to hone in on this pass game a little bit and trying to get some confidence in him," Campbell said of Goff. "Really trying to make it clear for him and our guys, our receivers too. That – here's the vision for it."
Campbell gave some credit to tight ends coach Ben Johnson after the game. Johnson has been handling more of the pass-game coordinator duties since Campbell took over play calling four weeks ago.