Calvin Johnson had 207 yards on 12 catches, including a touchdown that brought the Lions (4-5) a little closer with 1:53 left. But Johnson’s lost fumble near midfield on the previous possession put Vikings rookie Blair Walsh in position for his fourth field goal.
“I feel like we didn’t play our best. Just speaking for myself: There’s a lot more we could put on the field,” Johnson said.
Matthew Stafford threw touchdown passes to Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young to cap quick 80-plus-yard drives in the second half, fueled by Johnson and his ailing left knee that sure didn’t look too bad. Their sluggish start, though, was too much to overcome.
“We were backed up and going 80-plus, it felt like, the whole game,” Stafford said. “That’s something that’s going to be tough against a defense like that.”
Winning this game was critical for both teams and their quest to make the playoffs, which for the Lions would be their first consecutive appearances since three in a row from 1993-95 and for the Vikings would be their first since Brett Favre’s renaissance in 2009.
The rest of the schedule is brutal on each side. Detroit’s remaining opponents took a combined 44-16 record into Sunday, and Detroit plays Green Bay and Houston next. The Lions can play five of their last seven contests at home, however.
The Vikings face four of their final six on the road, with their only home games against Chicago and Green Bay. Their remaining foes had a 36-14 mark, entering the weekend. To have a fighting chance in this challenging stretch, the Vikings badly needed a boost for Ponder and their sputtering passing scheme.
“If you want to be a good football team, these are the games that you really have to win,” coach Leslie Frazier said.