NFC North up for grabs!

Over the years, the Vikings it seems have always been able to get healthy against the Detroit Lions. And with six starters out, it was a tumultuous week. Head Coach Mike Zimmer (no excuses) had eye surgery Monday, and during the week Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner resigned.

After back-to-back losses, the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense needed to beat the Lions. Since 1961 the Vikings all-time are 71-37-2 against Detroit. Head Coach Jim Caldwell is establishing a winning tradition in Motown. The Lions have won four of their last five games after Sunday’s thrilling 22-16 overtime win at U.S Bank Stadium.

Photo Steve Floyd

Photo Steve Floyd

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has found a way to pull a rabbit out of his helmet. In his eighth season out of Georgia, Stafford has won 25 games in his career, five this year alone when the Lions were behind in the fourth quarter. Sunday, the Vikings battled all day to finally take their first lead 16-13 in the fourth quarter with just 23 seconds left.

All Stafford did with the calm of a burglar starting at his 25 was drive the Lions 35 yards with no time outs to the Vikings’ 40. The big one was hitting Andre Roberts for 27 yards. He quickly spiked the ball to stop the clock with two seconds left. Kicker Matt Prater then drilled a 58-yard field goal at the buzzer. He kicked three field goals Sunday for 47, 53 and 58 yards.

Tie game 16-16: Yes, another NFL overtime game. The Lions in overtime won the coin toss and then drove 87 yards against the Vikings vaunted defense, ending with Stafford to Golden Tate for a 28-yard touchdown. Lions win 22-16.

Photo Steve Floyd

Photo Steve Floyd

The Vikings have lost three in row and for the first time before 66,807 at home. In the three consecutive losses, the Vikings rushed for 93 yards against the Eagles, 57 yards against the Bears, and 78 yards against the Lions. Football is a 60-minute game. Coaches preach to their teams about having balance in running and passing.

“Anytime you lose one at the end like that, it’s hard,” said Kyle Rudolph. “We did not do enough things to win the game. We fought hard offensively, we stalled some drives, and we did not get points when we needed it.”

Suddenly, after starting 5-0, the Vikings have lost three straight, and just like that the NFC North is up for grabs: Vikings 5-3, Lions 5-4, Green Bay 4-4. They are getting behind early: 18-3 vs. Philadelphia, 20-3 vs. the Bears, and Sunday 10-3 vs. Detroit.

I’ve said the pilot light is out on this team. They have failed in the red zone to score touchdowns multiple times: against Philadelphia at the 2, the Bears at the 2, and the Lions at the 18 and 5 yard lines with zero points. Throw in kicker Blair Walsh missing an extra point and having a 46-yard field goal blocked.

Mentally the Vikings are losing games. They have six starters out with injuries. “We played a good football team today,” said Brian Robison. “They’ve beat some good teams. We just did not capitalize on the opportunities we had in front of us.”

When you don’t have balance offensively, you become predictable. The defense beats you to the punch, and that’s what has been happening. Opponents can see the Vikings’ 31st-ranked offense, 31st in rushing, not able to establish the running game. In Sunday’s game the Vikings had a total of two yards gained in the second quarter.

Opponents are game planning the defense by spreading the offense out and just working their way down the field. The Lions were 7-14, 50 percent on third downs against the Vikings defense. Most of the season the Vikings have been winning on third down defensively, but not on Sunday. That’s part of the wear and tear of spending too much time on the field. Penalties hurt the Vikings also, eight for 54 yards.

Photo Steve Floyd

Photo Steve Floyd

Next Sunday the Vikings travel to Washington.

 

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@larry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.