MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings continued to make a case that their season isn’t yet all about draft position on Sunday as they won their second consecutive game to improve to 3-5 and finally got their first home victory of the season after opening with three losses. There was only one problem with making any judgments about the Vikings’ performance: The Detroit Lions, led by a defensive-minded coach in Matt Patricia, did absolutely nothing to try to stop Minnesota’s offense an all-too-easy 34-20 victory.
The Lions played like a team that wants Patricia fired, and in doing so, might have provided the Vikings with a false sense of just how much they have turned around things with back-to-back victories over NFC North rivals Green Bay and Detroit. A week ago, it was the Dalvin Cook show as the Vikings running back ran for 163 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns and also caught two passes for 63 yards and a touchdown in a 28-22 victory.
The Packers’ tackling was atrocious, but the Vikings still deserved credit for going into Lambeau Field with a 1-5 record and beating Aaron Rodgers and Co., especially considering how shorthanded Mike Zimmer’s defense had become. But the Packers’ defense looked like the 1985 Bears compared to what the Lions put on the field Sunday.
If you’re looking for examples of just how little Detroit cared, it hasn’t hard to find them. The Vikings went 67 yards on five plays on their opening drive, finishing it off with another Cook touchdown run, this one from 5 yards out. But the lack of professionalism the Lions showed was probably best illustrated by the Vikings’ final drive of the opening half. Detroit had pulled within 13-10 after Matthew Stafford found Marvin Jones Jr., on a 15-yard touchdown pass that included a bad missed tackle by Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd.
So how did the Lions’ defense reward its offense? By allowing the Vikings to easily march 87 yards on six plays. The drive included a 29-yard pass to Cook, a 13-yard run by Cook and then a screen pass from Kirk Cousins to backup Ahmeer Abdullah that went 22 yards for a touchdown and ended with left guard Dakota Dozier down field looking for someone to block, but finding no Lions player even remotely interested in pursuing Abdullah.
The Vikings began to put the game out of reach in the third quarter as Cousins connected with tight end Irv Smith Jr., on his second touchdown reception of the afternoon to put Minnesota up by 17. Stafford, who did not practice last week because he was in the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol, was cleared to play on Sunday morning. He probably wished he hadn’t bothered showing up. Stafford actually got into the futility act in the third quarter, throwing two terrible interceptions to linebackers Eric Wilson and Eric Kendricks, the second one coming in the end zone after the Lions got the ball at the Minnesota 22-yard line following a blocked punt.
Cook added a 70-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, easily cutting through the Lions’ defense. Cook finished the day with a career-high 206 yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns and two receptions for 46 yards. Cook has gone over 100 yards in four of his seven games this season.
So what are we to make of a Vikings’ victory in which they beat up on an opponent that appeared to spend last week preaching apathy?
The NFC is going to have seven playoff teams, and possibly eight depending on what happens with a schedule that could have game(s) lost to the pandemic. Minnesota and Detroit now have the same record (3-5) but the Vikings are no longer in last place in the division. The Vikings, who put on a brutal performance in a 40-23 loss to Atlanta in their last home game, will attempt to spin this win as a signal that they are very much back in the playoff race.
That won’t even be worth a discussion unless the Vikings beat the Chicago Bears in their next game, a week from Monday in Soldier Field. The Vikings are now 1.5 games back of second-place Chicago after the Bears lost on Sunday at Tennessee. But the Vikings are 2-4 at Soldier Field against the Bears under Zimmer and have lost their past two games in Chicago. Cousins, meanwhile, is 0-9 on Monday nights in his career.
If the Vikings do win in Chicago, they would be one game under .500 and entering a stretch of three consecutive home games against Dallas, Carolina and Jacksonville. All three of those teams are under .500 and the Cowboys and Jaguars are both a mess.
Are the Vikings, an incredibly flawed team, capable of this type of run? The Lions’ ineptitude on Sunday makes that a very hard difficult to make.