DETROIT (AP) – Matthew Stafford led another crucial drive late in the fourth quarter, and Matt Prater’s kicking again helped Detroit to a tight victory over Minnesota.
For the second time this month, the Lions edged the Vikings. This time, they didn’t need overtime.
Prater’s 40-yard field goal on the final play gave Detroit a 16-13 victory Thursday, moving the Lions a game ahead of Minnesota atop the NFC North. Darius Slay intercepted Sam Bradford’s pass with 30 seconds remaining to set up the winning kick.
On Nov. 6 at Minnesota, Stafford led the Lions into range for Prater’s 58-yard field at the end of regulation, and Detroit went on to win 22-16 in overtime . Now the Lions (7-4) have sole possession of first place after Thursday’s victory.
“Obviously, we’re in decent position, but they don’t hand out trophies and things of that nature after a few wins like we’ve had,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “But we’re happy that we were able to find a way to pull them out, that’s for sure.”
The Vikings (6-5) were facing third down in the final minute when Slay stepped up in coverage and intercepted Bradford. His return gave the Lions the ball at the Minnesota 20, and although there was some initial question about whether Slay fumbled at the end of the play, the call was upheld. Detroit ran the clock down, and Prater’s kick won it.
The Vikings led 13-10 and had the Lions pinned back at their own 2 with 5:02 remaining, but Stafford made a 29-yard pass to Anquan Boldin on a crucial third down, and Detroit was able to work its way into position for Prater’s 48-yard field goal that tied it with 1:45 to play.
The Lions have won six of their last seven, and Minnesota has dropped five of six since starting the season 5-0. Now the Vikings will have to rally to win a division that once looked like theirs for the taking.
“You just keep moving forward. Obviously, there’s a lot of football left to play and there’s still five games left,” Bradford said. “All we can do is worry about who we have next week and that’s Dallas. Obviously, it’s a really big game for us.”
Here are a few things we learned from Detroit’s big Thanksgiving victory:
The Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993, and this is certainly a big opportunity for them. Not only are they one game ahead of the Vikings, but they also have the tiebreaker, having swept the season series against Minnesota. And Green Bay (4-6) has fallen back with four straight losses.
However, the Vikings could still be heard from down the stretch. Minnesota hosts Dallas next, but none of its final four opponents (Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Chicago) has a winning record at the moment.
The Lions, meanwhile, still have road games against Dallas and the New York Giants.
Stafford is having a terrific season with his arm, but he also showed some effectiveness as a runner Thursday. He ended up with 30 yards on four carries, giving the offense a boost when little else was working.
“He always adds a couple in there for us. I do think he’s a weapon in that regard,” Caldwell said. “Teams that play some man-to-man in those situations and turn their back on the ball, he finds a way to find a hole and skate through it. He makes good decisions in that regard and those runs are very, very important to us.”
Bradford is very accurate with quick, short passes , but that’s not always enough to win. He went 31 of 37 but threw for only 224 yards, and the Vikings managed only one touchdown in the game.
The Lions can feel confident in their kicker in important spots. All 11 of Detroit’s games this season have been decided by seven points or fewer, and Prater has come up big.
In his career, Prater has made 18 game-winning or game-tying field goals with under 4:00 to play in the fourth quarter or in overtime. Six of those kicks have come in 2016.
The 40-yarder at the end Thursday was no problem.
“It’s still a short enough kick where you should be making that kick 100 percent of the time,” he said.
TOUGH UP FRONT
The Vikings’ defense is still looking strong. After Detroit drove 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first possession, the Lions didn’t reach the end zone again. Detroit managed only 90 yards in the second half.