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O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Looking ahead only way to go for Lions

The National Football League's weekly rest and recover cycle doesn't leave much room or time for celebrations or complaining about a loss and rationalizing how it really should have been a victory.

Win or lose, the schedule moves on from game to game.

The Detroit Lions are moving on from last week's bitterly disappointing 30-26 loss to the Atlanta Falcons to Sunday's road game against the Minnesota Vikings.

They have no choice except to focus squarely on a Vikings team that has added an offensive dimension to go with a strong defense.

The loss to the Falcons was as disappointing as they come for a game early in the season. It was a gut punch that brought the Lions down from celebrating what was ruled on the field a game-winning catch by Golden Tate, to a replay reversal that nullified the score, and ultimately enforcement of a rule that took the remaining seconds off the game.

As Tate expressed on social media, 24 hours later he "still didn't understand what happened."

That was then. This is now, with the reality that looking ahead is the only way to go.

"Got to be," Tate said later in the week. "It's a long season. Time to put all our energy into Minnesota, which is the most important game on our schedule because it's the next game."

Resilience has been a strength of the Lions' character in Jim Caldwell's tenure as head coach. It will be tested again Sunday.

The Vikings have had to hurdle their own roadblocks – chiefly a change in starting quarterbacks – to start the season with a 2-1 record that matches the Lions. The Vikings have a combination of big-play offense and strong defense that might be the best the Lions have faced thus far.

The Lions' running game is still a work in progress – slight progress, at that. The Falcons passed and ran on them last week, but that was with a superior quarterback in Matt Ryan. And even then, the Lions intercepted three passes.

The Lions have the best long-distance kicker in the game in Matt Prater, and their defense has created turnovers. And Matthew Stafford is a quarterback who can win games when he's not having his best day. With Stafford, there is always a chance when there is time on the clock. Unless the officials take it off, of course.

Bottom line: The Lions will be tested hard Sunday because the Vikings are good, not because they get caught looking back. The return of middle linebacker Jarrad Davis and center Travis Swanson should help. They were missed against the Falcons.

The concern isn't the Lions' ability to bounce back mentally. It's about the matchups for one game.

Prediction: Vikings 24, Lions 23.

Series history: The Vikings have a 71-38 lead with two ties. The Lions have won four of the last six, with two-game sweeps in 2014 and '16.

2016 sweep rewind: Late-game heroics won both games – 22-16 in overtime at U.S. Bank Stadium in Game 9, and 16-13 at Ford Field on Thanksgiving Day in Week 11.

Matt Prater's leg played a major role in both games. A 58-yard field goal as time ran out tied the first game. The Lions won on Matthew Stafford's TD pass to Golden Tate on the first possession. On Thanksgiving Day, Prater tied it with a 48-yard field goal with 1:45 left and won it with a 40-yarder as time expired.

Lions focus – gamer: Golden Tate has in abundance the grit and determination that runs throughout the Lions' roster. He competes hard.

"We all want to win," he said this week. "I want to win for all of us."

Tate didn't mean to separate himself from his teammates in his comment. He was just expressing what the experience of his four seasons with the Lions has meant to him. He has been a rock in the offense. His statistics show that – 99 and 90 catches his first two seasons as a Lion as a complement to Calvin Johnson, and 91 catches last year with a strong finish.

With 21 catches in the first three games, Tate is on pace for his first 100-catch season. It's too early to project a final total, but not too early to project what he means to the offense. He's reliable, tough, and one of the best receivers in the NFL in gaining yards after the catch.

"I think he's just a gamer," Stafford said. "You may see him run around in shorts and a T-shirt, and you may not be all overly impressed, but he's got great will when he catches the ball. He's a really, really talented runner.

"He makes a lot of contested catches for a guy his size, plays bigger than he is, and we can move him all over the place."

Tate did the dirty work in last season's 26-20 overtime win over the Vikings. He had 10 catches on 11 targets for 51 yards. It was gritty work, running tough routes in traffic to average 5.1 yards per catch.

On the 12th target he made his 11th catch – a 28-yard catch and run ending with a leap into the end zone to win the game.

As Stafford said, he's a gamer.

Vikings Focus – rookie RB: Dalvin Cook hasn't made anyone forget Adrian Peterson, and he shouldn't. Peterson was too dominating to be swept aside without a mention as Cook takes over the position Peterson played for a decade as the NFL's most dominant runner.

But with Peterson operating in 2016 at a diminished level in his 10th season – three games, one start, 77 rushing yards and 3.3 yards per carry – Cook has added versatility and speed to the position.

He's a player the Lions have to key on, says defensive tackle Akeem Spence.

"He has the speed to get outside," Spence said. "He has the vision to cut the ball back. He has strength, the yards after contact. He has a bunch. He's a complete back."

Cook may not become an all-time great like Peterson was, but he's been one of the best in a strong group of rookie running backs.

Cook broke in with 22 carries for 127 yards in the opening game against the Saints. He followed that up with 64 yards in a loss to the Steelers and 97 in a win over the Bucs for a three-game total of 288. He also has 10 catches for 82 yards, with a a long run of 33 yards and a long reception of 36.

That kind of production has opened pass-run options for whoever plays quarterback.

"You don't have to take him off the field on third down," said Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

If they don't take him off, the Lions have to hold him down.

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