FIRST DOWN: SWING PLAYS
Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia talks all the time about how critically important it is to win the last minutes before the half, because those last few minutes can sometimes swing momentum one way or the other.
That was certainly the case for the Lions Sunday in Minnesota, but it was the Vikings who were able to swing momentum in their favor in a key sequence of events right before the half in their eventual 20-7 victory.
Trailing 10-0 with 1:16 left in the half, Lions quarterback David Blough was facing a 3rd and 2 at the Vikings' 15-yard line. He took a bad sack and a 12-yard loss as he tried to escape pressure to his left. Instead of throwing the ball away and taking the chip-shot field goal, it forced Matt Prater to have to kick a 45-yard field goal instead of a 33-yarder. It usually doesn't matter with Prater, but the sack gets magnified because Prater's 45-yard attempt went wide right.
Minnesota took over at their 35-yard line with just over a minute left in the half. From there, it took them just six plays and 46 seconds to go 65 yards and score on a Dalvin Cook 3-yard run to bump their lead to 17-0 right before the half. The big play on that Vikings drive was a 44-yard catch by wide receiver Stefon Diggs on cornerback Darius Slay down to the Lions' 3-yard line
"It wasn't very good before the half," Patricia said. "We came in and talked about it at halftime how much we were all disappointed by that."
It was a huge momentum swing in the game that went Minnesota's way.
SECOND DOWN: LAST PLACE
Detroit's loss Sunday guarantees they'll finish last in the NFC North for a second consecutive season. At 3-9-1 and only three games remaining, Detroit can't catch third-place Chicago, who won their seventh game of the season Thursday night against Dallas.
It's certainly a disappointing development for the Lions after the optimism surrounding this team was so high heading into Patricia's second season.
Detroit finished 6-10 and in last place in the NFC North last season. They'll need to win their last three games against Tampa Bay, Denver and Green Bay to best that mark.
By finishing last in the division, the Lions are guaranteed to play the last place team in the NFC East and NFC West in their NFC crossover games next season. Detroit will play all four teams in the NFC South next year.
View photos from the Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Week 14 game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 in Minneapolis.
THIRD DOWN: WHAT TO PLAY FOR
The playoffs were taken out of the equation this year for the Lions after their Thanksgiving Day loss to Chicago. The rest of the season from that point on was playing for pride, playing the role of spoiler, and as Slay said after Sunday's loss to the Vikings, playing to improve the resume.
"Like I always tell my guys, your tape is your resume," Slay said. "No matter what the score is, your film is your resume. You always want to have a good resume."
Detroit fought to the end Sunday, and though it amounted to a 13-point loss, they played tough in the second half, especially defensively, and never quit.
These last three games will tell coaches a lot about the personal pride and fight these players have to end the season the right way, despite there being nothing to play for.
"At the end of the day, we have three more games with this group of guys and this group of men to go out there and try to perform the best individually and as different units and a team," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "At this point that's all we can control."
FOURTH DOWN: FEELING THE PRESSURE
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knows how to dial up the pressure, and he threw some exotic blitz packages at Blough in just his second start that gave the Lions issues all game. The Vikings moved safety Harrison Smith up on the line of scrimmage early on and sent him after Blough a couple times.
Blough also ran himself into a couple sacks by bailing out of the pocket and giving talented Vikings defensive ends Danielle Hunter (three sacks) and Everson Griffen (one sack) the opportunity to get after him outside the relative safety of the pocket.
The Vikings finished with five sacks in the game, and hit Blough eight times total.
"I can't put us in the position of taking those sacks," Blough said after the game. "I can't leave my linemen out to dry on some of those. Five (sacks) is five too many."