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O'HARA'S BURNING QUESTIONS: Did Vikings clinch the NFC North?

Burning questions: The emotional rollercoaster of a big game, with the Minnesota Vikings taking an early lead and the Detroit Lions trying all day to rally, with replay challenges, a leg injury to Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter and more in a 30-23 win by the Vikings at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day.

Question: Did the victory clinch the NFC North title for the Vikings?

Answer: Mathematically, no.

Realistically, yes.

The Vikings have a 9-2 won-loss record and a three-game lead on the Lions with five games left. The Lions are 6-5.

Barring a comeback for the ages, the Lions will have to make the playoffs as a wild card. That is still something worth shooting for, but that didn't seem like much consolation the way things turned out Thursday.

Q. How would you describe the game from the Lions' perspective?

A. One word: Disappointing. Disappointing the way they got behind early, and disappointing with how they failed to maximize some opportunities.

The Vikings were the better team Thursday. There is no doubt about that. They played better overall, and took advantage of situations when the outcome was in the balance. One of them was a third-down catch by Stefon Diggs on a third and seven late in the fourth quarter.

Diggs made the catch on Darius Slay, and it was a big catch because he was able to maintain possession and use up more time in a drive that ended in a field goal. It was typical of what happened all day.


Q. Stafford injury: How did he get hurt, and how serious was it?   **

A. He got hit from behind by Vikings defensive lineman Tom Johnson just as he released a 43-yard TD pass to Marvin Jones Jr. in the first minute of the fourth quarter that cut the Vikings' lead to 27-23.

Stafford did not miss any time, but it looked like the leg affected him. The Lions never threatened to score again.

Q. QB comparison: How did Case Keenum match up in his duel with Stafford?

A. I'd make Keenum the winner. For one thing, his team won. For another, he played above expectations. Stafford did not have one of his better games. He was off a little at times, and without a running game, the Lions could not move the ball without Stafford playing at his best.

That's part of what made it an emotional rollercoaster for a Lions fan.

Q. Vikings' start, 6-0: What was the realistic thought when the Vikings scored on their first possession?

A. Realistically? That the Lions had to put the brakes on the Vikings – and fast. They aren't the winless Browns, who sprinted to a 10-0 lead two weeks ago. And they aren't the Bears, who had leads of 10-0 and 17-7.

Q. Vikings accelerating, 13-0: What about after two touchdowns on two possessions – around a lost fumble by the Lions at midfield on the exchange between Matthew Stafford and Ameer Abdullah?

A. Honestly? That it might be over before halftime, and it would be a good idea to forget about the NFC North race and look at the tiebreaker formula for a wild card berth in the NFC.

**Q. Vikings runaway, 20-3: And was there a pulse of hope when Kyle Rudolph made a 22-yard catch for his second TD reception with 37 seconds left in the half? 

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Day matchup vs. Minnesota Vikings.


A. If pulses were racing, it wasn't because of any excitement about the Lions making a comeback. Not with the Vikings moving the ball almost at will on offense – 243 yards to 142 for the Lions, a 17-9 advantage in first downs, and Case Keenum outplaying Matthew Stafford.

It did not look promising, to put it mildly.

Q. Lions strike back, 20-10: And what about when the Lions drove 75 yards to a touchdown before the end of the half?

A. Back in the game!!! Same resilient Lions as ever. There was still a lot of work to do in the second half, especially with the Vikings getting the kickoff to start the half, but the Lions were in the game – at least by the margin on the scoreboard.

They couldn't afford to have the Vikings score quickly in the second half and take command again, but the Lions had put themselves in position to make it a game.

Q. Third quarter exchange, Lions short-changed: It looked like both teams scored TDs on their first possessions of the third quarter, but the Lions wound up with only a field goal. What happened? And how damaging was it that the Lions had to settle for a field goal?

A. The Vikings ran the ball right through the Lions' defense, getting all 75 yards on the ground on four plays to make it 27-10. It looked like the Lions had answered back with a TD catch by Darren Fells, but the automatic replay review overturned the call on the field of a touchdown catch by Fells.

On the replay, it looked like Fells had both hands on the ball but lost control as he stretched it across the goal line.

Bottom line: The Lions could have cut the deficit to 27-17 with the touchdown, and it was 27-13 with the replay reversal. That made it tougher on the Lions to come back, and it already was tough enough.

The Lions managed to cut it to 27-16 going into the fourth quarter.

It was 15 minutes that would decide if there was still a race for first place in the NFC North.

Ultimately, the Vikings won the quarter because of how they finished the game, and they won the game and put a lock on first place in the process.

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