Who wants to bet against the Detroit Lions now?
Certainly not the Minnesota Vikings. They came to Ford Field Sunday with a glowing 10-2 won-loss record that had people wondering why they were underdogs to a Lions team that was 5-7.
The Vikings headed home with a 10-3 record after a 34-23 loss that should have left no doubt in anyone's mind that the Lions, who are playing – and winning -- meaningful games in December, are far ahead in their development from the team that started the season with a 1-6 record.
It wasn't as dominant a performance as the previous week, when the Lions beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-14, but the fact that the Vikings could have clinched the NFC North title with a win made Sunday's performance more impressive.
This week's Monday Countdown looks at how the Lions used the strength of their offense to control the game, with quarterback Jared Goff leading the way with another strong effort in what has been commonplace for him. He performed in the clutch.
There's also a look at how the Lions settled down after an early rash of penalties, some stats that show how the Lions have ascended in the NFC North and more.
We start with how the Lions took command.
1. Going long: The Lions took a 7-0 lead on their second possession on a 48-yard pass from Goff to rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams. Williams split two defenders and was 10 yards behind the Vikings' secondary to take Goff's pass for an easy score.
It was a sign of what was to come. Goff passed for 330 yards and three TDs, and the Lions racked up 464 yards.
The defense didn't pitch a shutout, but they made some key stops. And they got better as the game went on.
The defense gave up 15 first downs but only seven points in the first half, and only eight first downs in the second half.
"It wasn't perfect," said Campbell. "I think that shows signs of our growth, the fact that we didn't play a perfect game but we did what we had to to win.
"We got better in all areas. Our defense made plays when we needed them, and our offense was able to control that game."
2. Penalties: Campbell stresses playing a clean game, which means limiting penalties and eliminating turnovers.
The Lions had no turnovers, but they were flagged for seven penalties for 51 yards. Five came in the first quarter alone.
That's in contrast to the last two games, when the Lions had three penalties combined. The Lions settled down in the second half.
"I knew this would be an energetic game," Campbell said. "The fans showed up. You can't help it. It's electric."
3. Scoring: The Vikings deserve to be considered the best team in the NFC North because they have a 10-3 record. The Lions deserve to be in second place because they have the second best record.
But does best record mean best team – at this point in the season?
The Vikings have scored 312 points and gave up 313 for a net difference of minus one point.
The Lions have scored 349 points and allowed 347, for a net difference of plus two points.
4. Takeaways, offense:
- Spreading out: The Lions had 11 players who were targeted at least once, and eight who caught at least one pass.
- Protection: Goff had to roll out to get away from the rush a few times, but he was never sacked and hit only three times.
- Padding run stats: The offense was credited with 134 yards rushing, but C.J. Moore's 42 yards rushing on a fake punt were credited to the running game.
5. Takeaways, defense:
- Hit squad: Vikings' QB Kirk Cousins was often under pressure. He was sacked four times and hit nine times.
- On the run: Running back Dalvin Cook has had some big games against the Lions. Sunday was not one of them. He had 15 carries for 23 yards and one TD on a one-yard run.
- Giving ground: Another sign that the Lions' front seven was controlling the line of scrimmage was that in addition to the sacks and QB hits, the Lions had seven tackles for loss. Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson and cornerback Mike Hughes each had two.
6. Takeaways, special teams:
- For kicks: Kicker Michael Badgley split his first two field-goal attempts, missing form 41 yards and connecting from 41. He made his third try from 48 yards with 18 seconds left to close out any miracle chance for the Vikings to get a TD and two-point conversion to send the game into overtime. It was a clutch kick.
- Special: It was a special day for the Lions' special teams with the fake punt that went for a 42-yard gain, seven kickoffs by Jack Fox that were not returned, and a long punt of 66 yards by Fox.
- Up: Wide receiver DJ Chark: He's in form for the stretch run. Six catches for 94 yards and the 48-yard TD catch showed that.
- Down: Nothing. Life is good for the Lions these days.
- Even: Goff. He's steadily good.
8. Bottom line: No matter where this late-season surge takes the Lions, they've made it entertaining with the promise of repeat performances in the future.