Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t complaining, but he did bring up a good point in that the Detroit Lions have a little more than the annual advantage of being home for their Thanksgiving game.
“We played them three weeks ago, but they’re fortunate in that they’ve had one game since they played us,” while the Vikings have played two, Zimmer said Tuesday as the Vikings tried to cram almost an entire week of preparation and practice into one day of work before flying to Detroit for Thursday’s game at Ford Field.
In a rare game that matters in Detroit on Thanksgiving, the winner will move to 7-4 and be in first place all alone in the NFC North. The loser will drop to 6-5 and be in second place ahead of the Packers (4-6).
The Lions technically are in first place at the moment thanks to their improbable 22-16 overtime comeback win over the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 6. Then again, considering Detroit has trailed in all six of its wins this season, maybe “improbable” isn’t the right word.
“Every one of their games they’ve played has been seven points or less, so I think they’ve done a great job at the end of ballgames, including the one that we played,” Zimmer said when asked to name Detroit’s greatest strength. “I believe that their offensive line, they’ve got two young guys in there that are playing well. I think they’re being very well coached which is helping (quarterback Matthew) Stafford play really well.”
Unlike the Vikings, who have had to use four different players at left tackle, the Lions have used only rookie first-round draft pick Taylor Decker. Rookie third-round draft pick Graham Glasgow has started the past five games. Center Travis Swanson has started every game, while right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Riley Reiff have missed only one start apiece.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have used four players at left tackle and three at right tackle. Jeremiah Sirles, who was a roster bubble guy at the end of camp, has played both guard and tackle spots. He has started games at left guard and right tackle. But the Vikings will, believe it or not, start the same five guys at the same five spots for the second game in a row on Thursday.
“Finally!” left guard Alex Boone wailed in the locker room on Tuesday. “Can you believe we have the same offensive line two weeks in a row?”
Despite the upheaval up front, quarterback Sam Bradford has played well. He has posted a career-high five games with a passer rating of 100 or better. One of those came against the Lions (103.4), but that’s not saying a whole lot since the Lions’ defense ranks last in the league in their opponents’ passer rating (108.5).
The Vikings bungled the first meeting with poor clock management, place-kicking and tackling. Kicker Blair Walsh, who has since been released and replaced by Kai Forbath, missed a PAT, had a 46-yard field goal blocked and botched a kickoff late in regulation. Zimmer called timeout too early before the Vikings scored their go-ahead touchdown, leaving the Lions with 23 seconds to move into position for the game-tying 58-yard field goal. And defensive backs Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes both missed tackles on Golden Tate’s game-winning touchdown catch in overtime.
Before their meltdown, however, the Vikings were looking fairly good for a team that had its offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, resign four days earlier. Interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called mostly short, quick-hitting passes. Bradford threw 25 of his 40 passes either behind the line of scrimmage or fewer than 5 yards downfield. He completed 31 passes, 13 of them for 80 yards to Stefon Diggs.
“I think Sam has played very well,” Zimmer said. “I think somebody told me that he’s third in completion percentage behind (Drew) Brees and somebody else. I don’t remember who. There’s a lot of stuff going on this week.”
Since that Nov. 6 game, the Vikings are 1-1, losing at Washington and finally snapping a four-game losing streak with a win over Arizona on Sunday. The Lions, meanwhile, had a bye after beating the Vikings. Rested and ready to go, they beat Jacksonville on Sunday.
And they were at home. So while the Vikings have had two games, including a road game, since the last meeting, the Lions have had a bye and haven’t had to travel since returning from Minneapolis the night of Nov. 6.
BOONE NOT PLEASED
Boone isn’t happy with Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson.
A reporter was asking Boone about the Vikings’ Wildcat formation. The reporter brought up how the Vikings had Sam Bradford throw from the wide receiver position on one of the Wildcat snaps, and how Peterson went out of his way to hit Bradford on the next Wildcat play even though Bradford didn’t have the ball.
Boone interrupted the reporter at that point to say, “Which I’m not happy about either. We’ll talk about that later.”
The reporter said, “Would you like to talk about it now?”
Boone says, “No, we’ll talk about it later. (Peterson) knows what he did and he knows what he’s got coming to him.”
Later, Boone was asked if he said anything to Peterson after the penalty.
“Nobody told me it happened,” he said. “I was wondering what the penalty was about. I asked the ref and he said it wasn’t a big deal. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. (Referee) Clete (Blakeman) knows me pretty well.”
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