Za’Darius Smith, Vikings defense step up when needed to get past Lions

John Autey/Pioneer Press/TNS

With two minutes left in Sunday’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, Vikings edge rusher Za’Darius Smith was down on the turf with an injury and his team was potentially in trouble.

The Vikings trailed Detroit 24-21 with timeouts remaining. The Lions needed one first down to end the game.

Smith finally got up after suffering what he later said was a lower-body injury. And he insisted on staying in for what would be a 28-24 victory.

“I went down for a second, but I couldn’t come out of the game,” Smith said. “I had to stay in there because it was a big situation. Two-minute situation, and they needed me the most. … My adrenaline was pumping.”

With the Lions facing third-and-14 at the Minnesota 46, they ran the ball and Jamaal Williams gained 10 yards to the 36. Surprisingly, on fourth-and-4, they elected to try a 54-yard field goal rather than go for a first down.

Austin Seibert missed the field-goal attempt, setting the stage for Kirk Cousins’ 28-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn with 45 seconds remaining. Then Smith returned to the field to help stop a last-ditch Detroit drive.

“It was great,” Smith said. “Just to know that my brothers are behind me. I’m just glad we won the game.”

Smith was hopeful that his injury wasn’t serious and went to get it checked out. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said Smith gutting it out at the end typified the play of Minnesota’s defense.

“He’s going to give it everything he’s got,” O’Connell said. “So we got tough guys. We got guys that love playing for one another.”

The Vikings gave up 416 yards of total offense, with Jared Goff throwing for 277 yards and Williams running for 87. But the defense made the plays down the stretch when needed.

Trailing 24-21, the Vikings stopped Williams for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 30 with 3:30 left in the game. And then they stopped two more Detroit drives.

“It’s wasn’t pretty at first, but we came together,” edge rusher Danielle Hunter said. “We knew what we had to do. We knew what plays we were going to have to make at the end of the game, and we came together and we pulled through.”

For most of the game, the Vikings’ defense was frustrated. En route to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter, the Lions converted all three of their fourth-down attempts on the drives for their first two touchdowns. The big one on their first drive was Goff completing a 30-yard pass on fourth-and-5 to Amon-Ra St. Brown to the Minnesota 2.

For the game, the Lions were 4 of 6 on fourth-down conversions. Afterward, Lions coach Dan Campbell said he “should have” gone for it on the fourth-down play before Seibert’s missed field goal.

“Honestly, they kept going for it on fourth down,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “I didn’t know whether it was third down or fourth down. We were just out there grinding.”

The Vikings persevered despite playing without star safety Harrison Smith, who was out with a concussion and replaced by Josh Metellus. Goff took advantage of Smith’s absence at times, but his final pass of the game, a desperation heave from the 50, was intercepted by Metellus at the Vikings 5 with 9 seconds left.

“I had to make a play, and I did,” Metellus said.

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