Last year’s stunning loss to winless Lions should keep Vikings motivated

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If the Vikings need any extra motivation for Sunday’s game against Detroit, they can look back to Dec. 5, 2021.

On that day, the Vikings came into Ford Field with a 5-6 record and looking to stay in the NFC playoff race, while the Lions were 0-10-1 and seemingly playing out the string. But Detroit won 29-27 in stunning fashion on a touchdown pass on the final play of the game.

The game was a turning point for both teams. The Vikings finished the season 8-9, one game out of the playoff race, and head coach Mike Zimmer was fired and replaced by Kevin O’Connell. And the win led to some momentum by the Lions, who finished last season 3-3 and look to be much improved this year.

Fast forward to Sunday when the teams meet again, this time at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“That was definitely a tough loss, especially because we needed it to get into the playoffs and everything,” wide receiver Justin Jefferson said Thursday. “Them having not so good of a record last year and us going into their home and losing, it definitely did not leave a good taste in our mouth after that. So definitely ready to get back to it. Get back to them.”

Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson also has bad memories from that loss, and he wasn’t even in Detroit that day. Peterson was in Minnesota watching on television while on the COVID-19 reserve list.

The Lions won when Jared Goff threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play. Cornerback Cameron Dantzler, who had replaced Peterson in the lineup, was behind Brown, who caught the ball just past the goal line. Later that week, Peterson went on the “All Things Covered” podcast he co-hosts with former NFL cornerback Bryant McFadden and talked about what Dantzler did wrong.

“That was very tough,” Peterson said Thursday of the loss. “I remember it like it was yesterday. I was on my couch watching it. … To watch the ending of that game was just heartbreaking.”

Whether Minnesota took the Lions lightly that day is uncertain. The Vikings had won eight straight games in the series, although they had barely survived 19-17 two months earlier on Greg Joseph’s 54-yard field goal on the final play at U.S. Bank Stadium.

One thing, though, is certain. The Vikings (1-1) won’t be taking the Lions (1-1) lightly on Sunday.

“This is a very, very dangerous football team that we or anybody can’t overlook, so we understand that we have our hands full,” Peterson said.

In addition to beating the Vikings late last season to give first-year head coach Dan Campbell his first NFL victory, Detroit followed that up with late-season victories over two playoff-bound teams, Arizona and Green Bay. This season, Campbell and the Lions have added some key players, most notably rookie edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, taken out of Michigan with the second pick in the draft.

Hutchinson had three of Detroit’s five sacks in last Sunday’s 36-27 win over the Washington Commanders at Ford Field. In the opener, the Lions barely lost at home 38-35 to the Eagles, the team that manhandled the Vikings 24-7 on Monday night in Philadelphia.

“They’re a pretty good team,” Jefferson said. “They’re coming in with a lot of fire, a lot of momentum, especially off the last game. So we definitely are prepared for them to come in and try to battle it out with us. I mean, they’ve been fired up this whole year. … They definitely think they’re a team that can come in here and beat us.”

While Hutchinson has been a key factor on an improved defense, the Lions have been even more impressive on offense. De’Andre Swift has rushed for 200 yards in their two games while averaging a staggering 10 yards per carry. Goff, who was up and down in 2021, his first season in Detroit, has thrown six touchdown passes, including four against the Commanders.

“You feel that Dan’s building something special there, and I’ve got a lot of respect for those coaches,” said O’Connell, who had Goff as his quarterback when he was the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2020. “I know Jared Goff really well. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. … We know it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”

Since O’Connell wasn’t with Minnesota then, he can’t use last December’s loss as motivation. But the Vikings have plenty of players still around from then who can.

“That was a tough one,” said edge rusher D.J. Wonnum, who sacked Goff earlier in that game but couldn’t generate pressure on the final play. “We took it on the head. Oh, 100 percent we’re going to use it as motivation.”

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