MINNEAPOLIS—With Detroit defending a seven-point lead and third-and-goal from the three-yard line, Anthony Zettel zoomed unblocked into Minnesota's backfield to sack Case Keenum with 2:19 to go.
The protection plan went awry for the Vikings on that particular play.
But their problems against the Lions persisted all afternoon.
Zettel led a ferocious performance by Detroit's defence with two sacks, four hurries, and a fumble recovery as the Lions forced three turnovers while holding Minnesota scoreless in the second half en route to a 14-7 victory yesterday afternoon.
“We're just tough. We're gritty. We get after it,” Zettel noted.
“This year, everybody's pulling the right direction.”
The Lions turned two fumbles lost by the Vikings in the third quarter into 11 points, taking the lead on Ameer Abdullah's one-yard touchdown run five plays after rookie Dalvin Cook fumbled at the Minnesota 29.
The Vikings (2-2) lost more than just possession. Cook limped off with an injury to his left knee—and the Vikings were bracing for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a promising rookie season cut painfully short.
Tahir Whitehead recovered that fumble for the Lions, plus one by Adam Thielen with 1:43 left forced by Glover Quin at the Detroit 45 that ended the last-chance drive for the Vikings.
The Lions (3-1) lead the NFL in turnover margin at plus-9. They've forced 11 turnovers—a full-schedule pace for 44.
They only had 14 takeaways all of last season.
“They're really helping us win games,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Case Keenum started in place of the injured Sam Bradford at quarterback for the Vikings for the third-straight game, going 16-for-30 for 219 yards.
He took the blame for Zettel's red zone sack, with a pre-snap decision to change the protection assignments and send right tackle Mike Remmers left on a double team with right guard Joe Berger.
Keenum then didn't make the right read against the rush, going down for an 11-yard loss on Zettel's team-leading fourth sack of the season.
“I got fooled," Keenum conceded. "That's a huge play in the game, obviously, and that's one I want back.”
Keenum's fourth down heave into the end zone sailed over Thielen's head.
The Vikings had only 120 yards in the second half.
Matt Prater's second field goal of the game was made possible by a botched play that started with a direct snap to running back Jerick McKinnon, who faked an inside handoff to Cook and tried to take off on an option play before fumbling.
Abdullah came close to ending a four-year stretch by the Lions without a 100-yard rusher, finishing with 94 yards on 20 carries before leaving the game with an injury to his right foot.
Coach Jim Caldwell said Abdullah could have returned to action.
“It's a marathon, not a race,” Abdullah stressed.
“I just want solid outputs every game.”
Stafford was sacked six times for 55 yards, but he dodged the turnover trouble that dogged the Vikings and completed 19-of-31 passes for 209 yards plus the key two-point conversion to T.J. Jones to give the Lions a seven-point lead.
As dominant as their defence was, the Vikings still made some costly mistakes.
Xavier Rhodes, Anthony Barr, and Trae Waynes each had their hands on passes by Stafford that realistically could have been intercepted.
“The defence played their hearts out today,” said Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer, who fell to 2-5 in against the Lions, who have won nine of the past 14 meetings with their NFC North rival.
“We didn't tackle in some certain situations as well as I would've liked, but they had their backs to the wall after those first two turnovers,” he noted.
Kai Forbath's streak of 21-straight made field goals since joining the Vikings for the final seven games of last season ended with a bonk off the right goalpost at a critical time, in the final minute of the third quarter.
Elsewhere in the NFL, New Orleans blanked Miami 20-0 (in London), Cincinnati dumped Cleveland 31-7, Houston bombed Tennessee 57-14, Buffalo beat Atlanta 23-17, Carolina upended New England 33-30, Pittsburgh downed Baltimore 26-9, and the L.A. Rams topped Dallas 35-30.
The N.Y. Jets edged Jacksonville 23-20 (OT), Arizona shaded San Francisco 18-15 (OT), Philadelphia beat the L.A. Chargers 26-24, Tampa Bay nipped the N.Y. Giants 25-23, Denver downed Oakland 16-10, and Seattle crushed Indianapolis 46-18.