The Minnesota Vikings, despite themselves, almost overcame five turnovers to pull off a monumental upset of the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday afternoon, but a fumble on the last play squelched the last drive of the afternoon and sent the Vikings to a 34-28 loss.
With the loss, the Vikings are now at 2-11 and, at least temporarily, in sole possession of the second pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The team they're in competition with for that spot, the St. Louis Rams, does not play until Monday night when they face the Seahawks in Seattle.
Things got off to a terrible start for the Vikings, as on their first offensive play quarterback Christian Ponder got stripped by Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril, and the ball bounced into the end zone, where Stephen Tulloch recovered it to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings appeared to have something going on their second drive after a 32-yard gain on an end-around from Percy Harvin, but on the next play Ponder threw an interception to Detroit's Alphonso Smith at midfield. The Lions took just three plays to capitalize, as on a 3rd-and-14 play, Matthew Stafford found a wide open Titus Young for a 57-yard touchdown, and the Vikings quickly found themselves down 14-0.
After a three-and-out for Minnesota, Stefan Logan returned a Chris Kluwe punt all the way to the Minnesota 32-yard line. Four plays later, the Lions were in the end zone again, thanks to a 12-yard pass from Stafford to tight end Brandon Pettigrew to give Detroit a 21-0 lead.
To Ponder's credit, he shook off the rough start and led the Vikings on an impressive 10-play, 80-yard drive that saw him make a couple of nice throws. He concluded the drive with a 7-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7. However, on the Vikings' next drive, he threw another awful pass, and Smith had his second interception of the game. The Detroit cornerback had a clear path to the end zone, and the 30-yard return put the Vikings into a 28-7 hole.
After Jason Hanson put the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, Ponder put together another scoring drive, taking the team 60 yards in 10 plays, eventually finding Percy Harvin in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-14.
Detroit added another field goal towards the end of the first half, thanks to the Vikings' fourth turnover of the first half when Lorenzo Booker fumbled at the Minnesota 16-yard line, and the Vikings found themselves down 31-14 going into the locker room.
On the Vikings' first drive of the second half, after a 28-yard pass to Devin Aromashodu to put the Vikings into Detroit territory, Ponder threw another awful pass, and it was picked off by Detroit's Eric Wright. During the return, Ponder got buried by Detroit linebacker Stephen Tulloch, a hit that drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty and ultimately sent Ponder to the bench for the rest of the afternoon.
Joe Webb came in at quarterback on the Vikings' next drive, and immediately made a huge impact, converting two third downs with his legs and then busting loose for a 65-yard touchdown run. . .yes, sixty-five yards. . .to cut the deficit to 31-21. The run was the longest touchdown run for a quarterback in Vikings' history. The Lions did answer with another field goal to put the score back to 34-21 with a little more than twelve minutes left in the game.
After Percy Harvin gave the Vikings good field position at their own 40, Webb put together another nice drive, mostly with his legs. After an 8-yard run moved the Vikings to 4th-and-2 on the Detroit 23-yard line, Toby Gerhart took a handoff and surged for five yards to keep the drive going. Three plays later, Webb and Gerhart connected on a 2-yard touchdown pass, and suddenly the Vikings found themselves within six at 34-28. The play was the first touchdown catch of Gerhart's career, and the first touchdown pass of Webb's.
The Vikings then stopped the Lions' offense, and took over on their own 20-yard line with 3:32 left on the clock. The Vikings managed to run 18 plays in that time frame, including another fourth down conversion by Gerhart, and with nine seconds left the Vikings found themselves with fourth and goal at the Detroit 1-yard line and no time outs left.
On the play, Webb took the snap and moved out to the left. It appeared that Detroit's DeAndre Levy grabbed Webb's face mask, a grab that the officials completely missed, and Webb fumbled the ball. The football was batted backwards and, ultimately, recovered by Detroit as time expired for the Vikings' sixth turnover of the game. The grabbing of the face mask by Levy looked deliberate, and probably should have given the Vikings one more play at the end of the game. However, it went uncalled by the officials, and the Vikings were sent to their 11th loss of the 2011 season.
The Vikings actually significantly outgained the Lions in terms of total yardage, racking up 425 total yards to Detroit's 280. Minnesota gained 269 of their yards on the ground, with Webb breaking Fran Tarkenton's old record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback with 109 yards on seven carries. Toby Gerhart chipped in with 90 yards on 19 carries, and Percy Harvin throwing in 40 rushing yards as well. Ponder and Webb combined to go 23-of-44 for 156 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions. Harvin was Minnesota's leading reciever with 69 yards on 10 catches.
The Vikings now have to win two of their final three games to avoid having the worst record in Vikings' history. The worst record the Vikings have had since the advent of the 16-game schedule was a 3-13 mark in 1984.