The Vikings and Lions both suck and aren’t quite shameless enough to attempt a late-season relocation to the NFC East, so their game in Detroit on Sunday was about as pointless as could be. Particularly in the middle of a pandemic, when non-essential interstate travel is pretty definitively frowned upon, one might ask why anyone would even bother keeping this game on the schedule. The apparent answer? So Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford could showcase their golden arms as they chucked footballs far down the field while an audience of hundreds watched in awe.
The Vikings improved to 7-9 by beating the Lions 37-35 in a Pro Bowl-esque shootout that featured two of the league’s worst defenses half-assing it even more than normal. It was a much more amusing game than it had any right to be, and it gave a bunch of guys the opportunity to make the backs of their trading cards look a little better when next autumn arrives. Marvin Jones Jr. caught eight balls for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Jefferson set a rookie record for receiving yards in the Super Bowl era by passing Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin with his 133-yard game.
But those wideouts were merely the beneficiaries of the two older kids who quarterbacked their offenses like they were showing off during recess. Stafford, inexplicably gutting it out through multiple injuries, had one of his best performances in a rocky year, hitting a couple of TD passes in the first 17 minutes to pilot Detroit to an early 13-7 lead. This first-quarter foguete to Jones set the tone for all that was to come, as the two longtime passing game partners connected for a 43-yard trip to the end zone.
Playing in his home state, Cousins matched Stafford drive-for-drive, throwing for a season-high 405 yards and accounting for four of his team’s touchdowns. At the very end of the first half, as the young boy playing as the Lions’ defense set his controller down to go get a snack, Cousins found Chad Beebe for a critical 40-yard score that got his team into the break with a 21-16 advantage.
In the first minute of the third, Stafford-to-Jones regained the lead for Detroit, but the Vikes were able to get back on top and stay there with both good offensive plays and some help from the officials. One of the game’s less comprehensible calls against the Lions was another spectacular big play for Jones with Detroit down eight, which, despite being ruled a touchdown on the field, was dramatically and disappointingly reversed to an incomplete pass.
The Lions still managed to score several minutes later on that very same drive, but they botched the two-point conversion with 4:26 to go and then did not touch the ball for the rest of the game. While the coach-less, GM-less Motor City boys dropped to 5-11 for the year, the Vikings earned themselves a hard-fought victory.
Still, after this neat little recap, you may reasonably be jumping to the comments to ask, “What’s the point, Lauren?” Well, even if this game didn’t matter in the grand scheme of the NFL season, the gaudy stat lines from Cousins and Jones at least hold the potential to change lives as fantasy leagues nationwide sweat it out during their championship week—no, wait, everybody does that in Week 16.
OK. This game may not have held the interest of many fans, but as the Vikings try to turn themselves into a playoff team, Minnesota must sure appreciate the stellar play of Cousins as he—ugh, never mind, the NFL rewards teams who play like crud, not those who simply rise to mediocrity.
Let me try this one more time. Even if this game was a moot point from the start, at least Lions season ticket holders and anyone else who took a trip out to Ford Field were rewarded with a very entertaining—goddamnit, that’s right, nobody was there.
Well, at least everyone tried their best!