For a long time, the Detroit Lions regularly embarrassed themselves on Thanksgiving Day. Their annual tradition showcased how downtrodden the franchise had become.
Lately, though, the Lions have become unbeatable on the holiday stage. They have won four straight Thanksgiving Day games at Ford Field, helping them to make the playoffs in two of those seasons.
“Playing meaningful football on Thanksgiving is a whole lot of fun,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “This year should be no different. Any time you win on Thanksgiving, it’s a blast. The turkey tastes a whole lot better.”
The Lions, who lost nine straight games on Thanksgiving prior to the streak, need another victory this Thursday to have any realistic hope of catching the streaking Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. Minnesota (8-2), which has won six straight, holds a two-game lead over second-place Detroit (6-4).
The division rivals face each other on Thanksgiving for the second straight season.
Over the past four seasons, the Lions have grinded out numerous low-scoring wins over the Vikings. Detroit, which carries a three-game winning streak into Thursday’s contest, has won five of the last seven meetings. The Lions have defeated the Vikings three straight times despite scoring a combined four touchdowns.
They won at Minnesota in overtime last season 22-16, then used three Matt Prater field goals to squeak out a 16-13 victory last Thanksgiving. Prater drilled two more in a 14-7 win at Minnesota on Oct. 1. Detroit recovered three fumbles that afternoon.
“We haven’t scored enough points,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We had 16, 13 twice and kicked a 60-yard field goal once. Last (time) 14-7. We turned the ball over three times last game and we got in the red zone and haven’t converted.”
The Vikings haven’t lost since, despite rookie running back Dalvin Cook sustaining a season-ending knee injury that day. Case Keenum has seized the quarterback job and become one of the league’s most efficient passers.
Keenum has completed 68.2 percent of his attempts over the last three games, including seven touchdowns, while getting picked off just three times.
“We’re doing a good job protecting,” Zimmer said. “We’re changing our protections and he’s doing a good job moving in the pocket. He’s getting the ball to the right place. The thing I like the most about Case is he’s got big (guts). He’s not afraid. He’s going to pull the trigger and play like that. That’s a good thing.”
Minnesota’s defense has been just as solid. It held down the high-powered Los Angeles Rams attack in a 24-7 win on Sunday. The Rams gained just 45 yards on 17 carries.
The Vikings can take a stranglehold on the division if they keep the streak going. A Detroit win would not only pull it within a game of the lead but also clinch the tiebreaker with the Vikings.
“They’re a very good team. They’re on a roll,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “We’re not worried about ramifications. We’re not worried about all of the build up and things of that nature. We’re worried about how we play, and that’s what our goal is — to get focused in on our preparation, and get ready to play a tough, hard-fought game.”
Caldwell’s club had a rough time with Chicago before pulling out a 27-24 victory on Sunday. Prater kicked a go-ahead, 52-yard field goal with 1:35 remaining and Bears kicker Connor Barth missed a potential tying field goal try in the closing seconds.
Thanks to Detroit’s pedestrian rushing attack, Stafford has continued to carry the offensive load. He’s completed 63.1 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns while getting picked off just five times.
The Lions have averaged 31.7 points during the three-game winning streak with Stafford throwing seven touchdown passes. He’s been brilliant the past five Thanksgiving games, with 13 touchdown tosses compared to two interceptions.
“Big arm, a lot of mobility, makes a lot of plays for his team,” Vikings safety Anthony Harris said. “He’s not afraid to put it up there and give his receivers an opportunity to come down with it.”
The Lions could have defensive end Ziggy Ansah available after he missed the Bears game with a back injury. Top kick returner Jamal Agnew (knee) and running back Dwayne Washington (hip) missed practice on Tuesday.
Vikings offensive tackle Mike Remmers remains in the league’s concussion protocol.
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