By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings needed both of Cordarrelle Patterson’s touchdowns to knock off the Detroit Lions 14-13 in the last game ever at Mall of America Field.
Patterson made an impact both in the running and passing game for the Vikings. He got the scoring started with a 50-yard touchdown run. It appeared as though Patterson was readying himself to throw the ball, but the pass wasn’t there. Patterson tucked the ball, broke one arm tackle and raced to the end zone with little resistance from the Lions.
The two teams struggled to get much else going offensively
The Lions (7-9) got their offense going in the second half and built a 13-7 lead early in the fourth quarter. Reggie Bush caught a wide receiver screen pass from Matthew Stafford and ran 19 yards for the Lions only touchdown of the game. David Akers added two field goals.
However, the Vikings (5-10-1) turned the momentum back to their favor when Everson Griffen sacked Stafford at the Lions seven-yard line to set up a third-and-26 play.
The Vikings forced the Lions to punt and Marcus Sherels returned the kick 50 yards to the Lions eight-yard line. Two plays later, Matt Cassel threw a back shoulder fade pass to Patterson in the end zone.
Both teams played without their offensive stars with the Lions Calvin Johnson out with a knee injury and Adrian Peterson of the Vikings nursing an injured foot.
After losing their first three games of the season at Mall of America Field, the Vikings finished with four straight wins at home.
Offense Grade: C
The Vikings offense was able to drive the ball more than 35 yards just four times. The Vikings had one drive of more than 35 yards that resulted in a touchdown. The next offensive possession resulted in an 11-play, 69-yard drive that ended on a third-down interception in the end zone, which took at least four points off the board. The other drive of more than 35 yards was a nine-play, 56-yard possession that ended with a punt from the Lions 39-yard line. The final drive of the game was an eight-play, 71-yard possession that allowed the Vikings to run the remaining four minutes and 53 seconds off the clock.
Without those three drives the Vikings had just 85 yards of offense, including one of negative yardage and three of less than 10 yards.
However, the Vikings finished the game with 345 yards on 56 plays (6.2 yards per play).
Matt Asiata set a career-high with 115 rushing yards. He carried the ball 14 times for an 8.2 yard per run average in place of the injured Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Based on the end result and yards-per-play average, it looked like a good game for the Vikings. However, they did not complete drives and keep the chains moving with enough consistency.
Defense Grade: A-
The Vikings won the game because of their defense.
Despite not having Johnson, the Lions are still a pretty good team on offense with Stafford at quarterback. The Vikings held the NFL’s third-ranked offense to 245 yards (156.9 below their season average) and third-ranked passing offense to 182 yards (104.7 below their season average).
The Vikings were successful on defense because of their pass rush. Jared Allen led the way with two sacks. He finished the season with 11.5 sacks – his seventh straight season with at least 10 sacks. Along with Griffen, Erin Henderson and Kevin Williams had a sack each.
The defensive backs were also a big part of shutting down the Lions. Second-year safety Robert Blanton led the Vikings with 13 total tackles. His safety partner Harrison Smith was second with nine tackles.
It wasn’t a perfect game by the Vikings defense. But had the offense done something, it could have been.
Quarterback Grade: C+
Cassel was a mixed bag of results. He made a few good throws, including the game-winning score. He finished the game with 20 completions on 33 pass attempts for 189 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked three times – at least twice he could have thrown the ball away – and threw an interception.
During two plays Cassel stared down his receiver while missing a wide open receiver in the back of the end zone. Rather than go up two scores (either 10 points with a field goal or 14 with a touchdown), the Lions had the ball at their own 36-yard line down only seven points.
Cassel continued to show his decisive nature with the ball, but also showed why he was available this offseason. He has a low throwing motion that allowed the Lions to get a hand on several passes. He also overthrew an open receiver on third down that ended a drive.
Cassel was the most consistent quarterback for the Vikings this season, but his future with the team is still a question mark heading into the offseason.
Special Teams Grade: B+
Sherels made the special teams’ day with his 50-yard return that set up the game-winning score. He beat a Lion to the edge and was given a lot of running room by his blockers. Lions punter Sam Martin never got a hand on Sherels, but he did force him to break stride and make a move. That allowed the pursuit to catch Sherels and keep him out of the end zone.
The kickers did their jobs as well for the Vikings. The Lions started at or inside their own 20-yard line on six of the nine times the Vikings kicked off or punted. Jeff Locke averaged 40.7 yards and got three inside the 20-yard line. Blair Walsh got touchbacks on two of his three kickoff opportunities. His third kickoff went five yards deep into the end zone and was returned only to the 15-yard line.
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.