As Sunday’s first half proved again, some of the wildest Lions games have been against Minnesota.
Let’s put it this way: 330-pound defensive tackle Jerry Ball scored a touchdown against the Vikings in 1992. Even more strange: Dan Orlovsky ran out of the end zone for a safety – and didn’t know he was running out of bounds for a safety – during a 2008 game that the Lions fittingly lost by two points. That was the poster boy moment of an 0-16 season.
Here are our top three craziest Lions-Vikings games within the past 23 seasons.
3. Thanksgiving Day Classic (1995)
The Lions prolific offense that featured three dynamic receivers and the best running back in NFL history faced Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day in 1995. Scott Mitchell threw three touchdown passes to open a 21-7 lead with 4:57 elapsed in the second quarter. It appeared a massive blowout was in the makings, but it faded quickly.
Minnesota’s David Palmer had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown at the 8:37 mark, and on the ensuing kickoff, Detroit’s Ron Rivers fumbled the ball into the arms of Orlando Thomas, who returned it 17 yards into the end zone to tie the game with 8:51 elapsed.
Two touchdowns. In 14 seconds. Game tied.
Throughout the contest, the Vikings had two touchdowns negated by penalties; the Lions lost a touchdown as well.
On another crazy instance, Barry Sanders turned the corner, crossed midfield and galloped deep into Vikings territory but had the ball stripped. It bounced wildly into the end zone for a touchback.
Mitchell finished with 410 yards passing to break Bobby Layne’s record of 374 set in 1950 against Chicago (now owned by Matthew Stafford: 520 yards vs. Green Bay on Jan. 1, 2012).
Three Lions receivers surpassed the 100-yard mark – Herman Moore (eight catches for 127), Brett Perriman (12-153) and Johnnie Morton (seven for 102).
Vikings quarterback Warren Moon, who was 39 years old but still full of the same brilliance he flashed for years in Houston, finished with 384 yards passing and three touchdowns. He heaved a desperation Hail Mary pass in the direction of Cris Carter on the final play of the game. It went into a pile of players – a pile that included Herman Moore who was inserted as a defensive back – and it was intercepted.
Final: Lions 44, Vikings 38.
“I don’t know if I have been in a game like this since grade school,” Moon said to the Associated Press. “I’ve been in games that were this high-scoring, but never when there were three touchdowns taken off the board. This could have been a 100-point game.”
2. He stayed in-bounds! (October 14, 2001)
Oh, Germane Crowell. What were you thinking?
His choice on October 14, 2001 might be the all-time worst, split-second decision by a Lions player in the 21st century. (OK, OK. Ndamukong Suh dominates the entire top 10, but this deserves recognition.)
The Lions trailed at Minnesota 31-6 in the third quarter, then Charlie Batch mounted a furious rally.
Batch, who appeared like he was mastering the west coast offense, connected with a diving Johnnie Morton on a fourth-down pass in the back of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown. It was initially ruled incomplete, then overturned by a replay challenge. The Lions were suddenly within 31-26.
Batch, who finished 31-of-41 for 345 yards and three touchdowns, managed to cap a 93-yard, 12-play drive in 4:01 on the strike to Morton.
Later, he led the Lions downfield in the waning minutes. They reached the Vikings’ 46-yard line with 15 seconds left. He hit Crowell for a pass at the Minnesota 20-yard line with 10 seconds on the clock, but Crowell gazed toward the inside of the field, thought to himself … then turned up-field and stayed in bounds.
Meanwhile, the clock ticked, and ticked, and ticked.
And the game was over.
Crowell eventually figured out what he had done as he rose to a knee. He wore a blank face – a “What did I just do?” look.
The Lions dropped to 0-4 en route to an 0-12 start – the perfect beginning to the Miserable Matt Millen era.
1. The incredible comeback (October 6, 1991)
The Lions were criticized for building a 4-1 record against cupcake opponents as Minnesota rolled into Pontiac on October 6, 1991. For three and a half quarters, those critics snickered as the Vikings – despite missing Herschel Walker and Anthony Carter – jumped ahead 20-3.
Of the 63,423 paid fans at the Silverdome, a few were already gone – or pushing through those bulky, revolving doors – when Rodney Peete delivered a pump fake to fool Vikings cornerback Reggie Rutland. It freed receiver Robert Clark, who ran a post pattern for a 68-yard touchdown with 6:50 left. Suddenly, it was 20-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lions special teams coach Frank Gansz caught Minnesota snoozing when eight players shifted to the left of kicker Eddie Murray, who performed a bouncing onside kick. The ball was touched by two Minnesota players, then recovered by Detroit reserve tight end Derek Tennell at the Lions’ 43-yard line.
The Silverdome exploded.
“We didn`t expect it at that point of the game,” Minnesota coach Jerry Burns said to the Chicago Tribune. “We didn’t have our ‘hands’ team in.”
Eight plays later, Peete threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Willie Green. It was 20-17 with 4:22 left.
The momentum clearly shifted and the Lions defense forced QB Rich Gannon and the Vikings offense into a three-and-out.
There was 2:56 left when Detroit had first-and-10 at its own 28. Nine plays later, the Lions reached the Vikings’ 15-yard line with 43 seconds remaining. It was third-and-1 when Wayne Fontes and Peete agreed on a draw play to Barry.
“Let`s play to win,” Fontes said, according to the Tribune.
And there was Peete, dropping back, handing off to Barry, who ran through a wide-open lane, raced 15 yards and ducked under Pro Bowl safety Joey Browner at the goal line for the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds left.
Comeback, complete. Silverdome, bonkers.
Seventeen points in 6 minutes, 24 seconds.
“The defense played into our hands,” Sanders said. “They were tired, wore down . . . surprised, I think, because they had been doing a good job.
“This is something we hadn’t done in a long, long time. I got excited. I got very excited.”
In the fourth quarter alone, Barry had 10 carries for 69 yards. He finished with his fourth straight 100 yard game (116 on 25 carries) and also caught nine passes for 76 yards.
It was the Lions fifth straight win and paved the way toward an NFC Central Division title.
“It’s never ever been like this before,” offensive lineman Lomas Brown told Mitch Albom. “In the past, losing in the fourth quarter, we would have folded – heck, we would have folded in the third quarter! This is the best moment I’ve ever had in pro football, better than the Pro Bowl, better than anything!”