Lions stun Vikings 29-27 on final play for first win of season

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Dec. 5—DETROIT — This time there was no great escape for the Vikings.

During a season of frustrating defeats, Minnesota absorbed perhaps its most gut-wrenching of all, losing to previously winless Detroit 29-27 on Sunday at Ford Field on Jared Goff's 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on fourth-and-2 on the final play. The lowly Lions are now 1-10-1.

"We're sick right now," Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson said. "We don't want to lose, especially games like this."

The Vikings (5-7) have flirted with danger all season, including managing to pull out a 19-17 victory over the Lions on Oct. 10 at U.S. Bank Stadium on a 54-yard field goal by Greg Joseph on the final play.

The Lions entered the day with three losses on last-second field goals and five losses overall in one-possession games. But on Sunday they finally got a last-ditch win of their own.

"I was proud of our guys," Detroit coach Dan Campbell said. "They fought. They've continued to fight all year, and it paid dividends today, and we found a way to win."

The Lions marched 75 yards in the final 1 minute, 50 seconds for the winning score, culminated when Goff took the snap with 4 seconds left and completed a pass to St. Brown, covered tightly by Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler, just across the goal line. Before that, they looked primed to blow another winnable game.

Detroit led 20-6 at halftime before the Vikings stormed back for a 27-23 lead with 1:50 left on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Jefferson. Jefferson, with fellow top receiver Adam Thielen sidelined in the first quarter with a sprained ankle, had career highs of 11 catches for 182 yards.

But the Lions weren't done. Despite having no timeouts, Goff completed 9 of 14 passes on the final drive for 75 yards. For the game , he completed 25 of 41 passes for 296 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.

"We were just too soft on them," Vikings safety Harrison Smith said of the Lions' last drive. "Let them get out of bounds a couple of times."

With the loss, the Vikings' playoff hopes took a serious hit. With five games left, Minnesota is in the No. 9 spot in the NFC playoff race, and seven teams will make it.

"Obviously, our backs are to the wall, but they've been back against the wall for a while," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

It was one of the tougher losses of Zimmer's eight years as Minnesota head coach. It came after he warned his team all week about the Lions hardly being a typical winless team.

"They're not doing good," Zimmer said of the mindset of his players after the game.

The Vikings were were down a number of top players Sunday. On defense, linebacker Anthony Barr was inactive because of a hamstring injury. Also out were linebacker Eric Kendricks (biceps), cornerback Patrick Peterson (COVID-19 reserve list), and defensive ends Everson Griffen (non-football illness list) and Danielle Hunter (out for season with shoulder injury). Those players have combined to make 19 career Pro Bowls.

On offense, the Vikings were missing star running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) all game, then Thielen got hurt in the first quarter. Alexander Mattison filled in for Cook and had 90 yards rushing on 22 carries.

"It's part of the game," Smith said of the Vikings' injuries. "It's how everybody is this time of year. You can always make an excuse if you want. It doesn't matter. You have to find a way to win."

The Vikings couldn't find a way to win despite winning the turnover battle 2-1 and stopping the Lions twice earlier in the game on fourth down.

"We put ourselves in a favorable position and we didn't execute when we needed to in the end," Smith said.

The Lions did. After St. Brown caught the winning pass, players ran onto the field and celebrated as if they had just won a playoff game.

"It came down to one play, and we were able to make it," Goff said.

Before that, it looked as if the Vikings were ready to beat the Lions for a ninth straight time and make Cousins a winner for the fourth time in a row in a trip back to his home state. Cousins, who is from Holland, Mich., competed 30 of 40 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns. He has now thrown for 1,336 yards and 12 touchdowns in his four games with the Vikings at Ford Field.

But Cousins couldn't get the Vikings in the end zone on their first two trips to the red zone, and they had to settle for two Joseph field goals in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead. The Lions then scored 20 unanswered points in the second quarter, which included Goff touchdown passes of 9 yards to T.J. Hockenson and 23 yards to Brock Wright. The second was set up when Cousins was sacked by Charles Harris and lost a fumble that Julian Okwara recovered at the Detroit 44.

The Vikings finally got going in the second half, and Mattison scored on an 8-yard run in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 20-15. Cousins threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn early in the fourth quarter to cut it to 23-21, then he hit Jefferson for the late score to go up 27-23. But each those touchdowns was followed by unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt.

"A difficult loss," Cousins said. "It was a tale of two halves. We put ourselves in a hole early. We fought back in the second half, moved the ball well, and obviously it wasn't enough. ... This one obviously hurts, but we've got to move on."

For the Lions, they will avoid a second winless season since 2008 when they went 0-16. That season included 12-10 and 20-16 losses to Minnesota. But on Sunday they didn't let one slip away.

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