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Vikings at Lions: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the five most important plays from the Vikings’ important Thanksgiving win over the Lions.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Case Keenum just keeps rolling.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Far be it from us to count our chickens before they hatch—we’re Vikings fans after all—but it’s probably safe to start thinking about the possibility of an NFC North title.

The Vikings started out hot and held on late for a 30-23 victory over the Detroit Lions on their second straight Thanksgiving trip to the Motor City. The win means the Vikings are three games clear of Detroit with five games left to play. That makes it seven straight wins for the mighty purple, who haven’t lost since their last matchup against the Lions on October 1. The Vikings were able to overcome a fair amount of adversity that took several forms and got a big win that showcased their mental toughness.

It’s time to look at how we got there by reviewing five of the biggest plays from Thursday’s game.

Play 1: Vikings ball, 1st & goal at the Detroit 9. First quarter, 4:01 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum left end for 9 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Pat Shurmur is just showing off in the red zone lately.

With the limited space to work with as you near the goal line, misdirection and the element of surprise become much more important. The Vikings play caller has been putting on a master class in recent weeks; calling the rarely-used read option here was absolutely brilliant.

The Vikings finally had their red zone touchdown streak snapped at twelve later in the game, and Shurmur got too conservative for my liking after the first drive of the second half. But the overall results from the Vikings offense this season are nothing short of incredible. Finishing off drives like this more often than not could make a huge difference down the stretch.

Play 2: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Detroit 22. Second quarter, 0:43 remaining. (Shotgun) C.Keenum pass deep right to K.Rudolph for 22 yards, TOUCHDOWN [M.Killebrew].

This is what we like to call a “big boy throw.”

Case Keenum was absolutely pummeled as he threw and still delivered an absolute dime to Kyle Rudolph for his second touchdown of the day. It gave the Vikings a commanding 17-point lead and the Lions never threatened the rest of the game that didn’t last very long thanks to the referees escorting Detroit down the field right before the half. For the first three or four games of this win streak, the Vikings were winning because of their defense and the weapons around Keenum. For the past couple games, Keenum is flat out playing really, really well. Comparing his performance on Thanksgiving to what he looked like against the Lions in Week 4 is truly mind-boggling.

Play 3: Detroit ball, 3rd & 10 at the Minnesota 14. Third quarter, 7:18 remaining. (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short right to D.Fells for 14 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the pass completion ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (No Huddle, Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete short right to D.Fells (T.Brock).

It looked like the Lions had pulled back to within 10 midway through the third quarter on this throw from Matthew Stafford to Darren Fells. Trae Waynes was momentarily sidelined with a shoulder stinger and the Lions wasted no time going right after Tramaine Brock.

Apologies for the quality on this one—NFL Game Pass wasn’t cooperating.

Initial replays showed that the ball hit the ground while making the catch, meaning it should have been ruled incomplete. However, the refereeing crew allowed the Lions to line up for the extra point, seemingly confirming the score. For whatever reason, Detroit took their time snapping the ball. If the kick had gone through, reviewing the play wouldn’t have been possible. Instead, the referees finally called for a review and the play was correctly overturned. The Lions had to settle for a Matt Prater field goal to make the score 27-13.

The referees tried to gift wrap this game for Detroit several times, but the Lions inexplicably returned this one to sender. With how the rest of the game played out, it could have been tied at 27 late if the Lions had shown a little more hustle kicking the extra point.

Play 4: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 36. Third quarter, 6:14 remaining. C.Keenum pass incomplete deep middle to S.Diggs (T.Wilson). DET-T.Wilson was injured during the play. His return is Doubtful.

Tony Corrente and his awful crew were way too flag-happy all day. Yet this was somehow NOT defensive pass interference.

Tavon Wilson never turns his head, arrives WAY too early, shoves Stefon Diggs in the chest...and no penalty is called. Instead of getting in field goal range with a shot at going up by anywhere from 17 to 21 points, the Vikings punted three plays later and the Lions answered with a field goal. Suddenly it’s 27-16.

But wait, it gets worse! After Ezekiel Ansah came up with a sack to end the Vikings’ next drive, Corrente decided this was taunting from Keenum:

Because, you know, when you gently flip the ball to the turf in frustration after getting sacked, that’s totally the same thing as rifling the ball at another player. The Lions got even better field position after the penalty, quickly scored on the ensuing drive, and all of a sudden, it’s 27-23 early in the 4th quarter.

Was it all the referee’s fault that a game that once looked like a blowout became a down-to-the-wire contest? Of course not. But awful decisions like these made the game a lot closer than it should have been. I already discussed the poor refereeing in the Stock Market Report, but I think it bears repeating: Tony Corrente and his crew are THE WORST.

Play 5: Lions ball, 4th & 7 at the Detroit 28. Fourth quarter, 3:00 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass short left intended for M.Jones INTERCEPTED by X.Rhodes at DET 37. X.Rhodes to DET 16 for 21 yards (E.Ebron).

This was decidedly not the greatest game of Xavier Rhodes’ career. But he still came up big in one of the game’s biggest moments.

On fourth down late in a one-score game, Rhodes defended Marvin Jones Jr.—who was gouging the Vikings for big plays all day—perfectly and tipped the ball to himself for the game-clinching pick. (Well, at least it turned out to be game-clinching, even though that way offside blocked field goal at the end gave us all a coronary episode.)

After all the ups and downs against a team that had beaten them three straight times, the Vikings found a way to escape Detroit with the division race nearly on lock. As always, we welcome your input on which of these plays had the most impact in the poll below. If you think we missed a few that should have been included, please add them in the comments.


What was the most important play of the Vikings' win over the Lions?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Keenum’s read option TD
    (94 votes)
  • 14%
    Rudolph’s second TD
    (230 votes)
  • 23%
    Detroit’s overturned TD
    (364 votes)
  • 21%
    The no-call pass interference
    (343 votes)
  • 31%
    Rhodes’ interception
    (497 votes)
  • 3%
    Other (comment below)
    (48 votes)
1576 votes total Vote Now