With Detroit defending a seven-point lead and third-and-goal from the 3, Anthony Zettel zoomed unblocked into Minnesota’s backfield to sack Case Keenum with 2:19 remaining in the game.
The protection plan went awry for the Vikings on that particular play. Their problems against the Lions persisted all afternoon.
Zettel led a ferocious performance by Detroit’s defense with two sacks, four hurries and a fumble recovery, as the Lions forced three turnovers while holding Minnesota scoreless in the second half on the way to a 14-7 victory over the Vikings on Sunday.
“We’re just tough. We’re gritty. We get after it,” Zettel said. “This year, everybody’s pulling the right direction.”
The Lions turned two fumbles lost by the Vikings in the third quarter into 11 points, taking the lead on Ameer Abdullah’s 1-yard touchdown run five plays after rookie Dalvin Cook fumbled at the Minnesota 29.
The Vikings (2-2) lost more than just possession. Cook limped off with an injury to his left knee , and the Vikings were bracing for a torn anterior cruciate ligamentand a promising rookie season cut painfully short.
Tahir Whitehead recovered that fumble for the Lions, plus one by Adam Thielen with 1:43 left forced by Glover Quin at the Detroit 45 that ended the last-chance drive for the Vikings.
The Lions (3-1) lead the NFL in turnover margin, at plus-9. They’ve forced 11 turnovers, a full-schedule pace for 44. They had only 14 takeaways all of last season.
“They’re really helping us win games,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
Case Keenum started in place of the injured Sam Bradford at quarterback for the Vikings for the third straight game, going 16 for 30 for 219 yards. He took the blame for Zettel’s red zone sack, with a pre-snap decision to change the protection assignments and send right tackle Mike Remmers left on a double team with right guard Joe Berger.
Keenum then didn’t make the right read against the rush, going down for an 11-yard loss on Zettel’s team-leading fourth sack of the season.
“I got fooled,” Keenum said. “That’s a huge play in the game, obviously, and that’s one I want back.”
Keenum’s fourth down heave into the end zone sailed over Thielen’s head. The Vikings had only 120 yards in the second half.
Matt Prater’s second field goal of the game was made possible by a botched play that started with a direct snap to running back Jerick McKinnon, who faked an inside handoff to Cook and tried to take off on an option play before fumbling.
Abdullah came close to ending a four-year stretch by the Lions without a 100-yard rusher, finishing with 94 yards on 20 carries before leaving the game with an injury to his right foot. Coach Jim Caldwell said Abdullah could have returned to action.
“It’s a marathon, not a race. I just want solid outputs every game,” Abdullah said.
THE OTHER ‘D’
Stafford was sacked six times for 55 yards, but he dodged the turnover trouble that dogged the Vikings and completed 19 of 31 passes for 209 yards plus the key 2-point conversion to T.J. Jones to give the Lions a seven-point lead.
As dominant as their defense was, they still made some costly mistakes. Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr and Trae Waynes each had their hands on passes by Stafford that could’ve realistically been intercepted.
On the last play of the first quarter, Stafford found Marvin Jones open in a hole in the zone coverage for a leaping 38-yard completion on third-and-17 that set up the first kick by Prater.
“The defense played their hearts out today. We didn’t tackle in some certain situations as well as I would’ve liked, but they had their backs to the wall after those first two turnovers,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who fell to 2-5 in against the Lions, who have won nine of the past 14 meetings with their NFC North rival.
Kai Forbath’s streak of 21 straight made field goals since joining the Vikings for the final seven games of last season ended with a bonk off the right goalpost at a critical time, in the final minute of the third quarter.
Prater’s 59-yard field goal on the final play of the first half fell short for his first miss of the season. Prater has four makes from 50-plus yards this season.
Lions rookie middle linebacker Jarrad Davis, the team’s leading tackler through two games, sat out for the second straight time. He’s recovering from a concussion, and he had a neck injury added on Friday.
Another starter, outside linebacker Paul Worrilow, limped off with a left knee injury on the defense’s first play. Nick Bellore and Steve Longa filled in. Whitehead left briefly with an injury, too, but he quickly returned.
The Lions host Carolina next Sunday, before traveling to New Orleans for a game on Oct. 15 that precedes their bye week.
The Vikings play at Chicago on Oct. 9, their second Monday night game in the first five weeks. They return home to host Green Bay on Oct. 15.