EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings have found no more reliable remedy for their problems than the Detroit Lions, the team they have defeated by far more than any other over their 60-plus years in the NFL.
The Vikings need a pick-me-up this week, after a third one-score loss in four games this season, and — as the luck of the schedule would have it — the Lions are due for their annual visit. The Vikings have won seven straight games in the series they lead 78-39-2, an intra-division domination that has passed down through multiple generations.
Even more convenient this year is that the Lions are winless in their rebuild under new coach Dan Campbell, and a slim margin of error has been further reduced by a slew of injuries to vital players.
Ah, but the Vikings would be awfully foolish to assume the game Sunday will automatically serve as the antidote to their rough start. Just last season, after all, they were 1-4 with a pair of one-point losses entering a home game against a winless Atlanta team that had just fired its general manager and head coach. The Falcons blew them out 40-23.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has become accustomed to this October ritual of trying to resurrect a contender from a slow start. This is the seventh time in his eight years they have failed to post a winning record at the four-game mark, with the outlier in 2016 when they started 5-0.
“I firmly believe that this is a good football team,” Zimmer said, adding: “We’ve still got a lot of time left. We've just got to get going.”
The Vikings lost 27-24 at Cincinnati in overtime and 34-33 at Arizona when Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal on the final play.
The Lions managed to top those excruciating defeats on Sept. 26, when Baltimore's Justin Tucker made an NFL-record 66-yard field goal off the crossbar for a 19-17 victory made possible by a missed delay of game penalty that should have been called the play before.
“We have lost four in a row, but we do feel like we are improving, we are doing the right things in practice, we are making plays in the game,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said. “How can we make them more often?"
The Vikings will try to delay their progress by at least a week.
“We have to find a way to be clicking on all cylinders at the same time,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "When the offense gets it going, the defense has to get it going as well. It can’t be the offense is going, and now we’re in a shootout. We have to be able to complement one another. I think that’s going to be the main focus moving forward."
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook returned last week from an sprained ankle that kept him out of the previous game. The flow of the game, the success of Cleveland's defense and an aggravation of the injury limited him to 34 yards on nine rushes.
“This week I feel like I’m taking that step to get back to being who I am, so that’s the plan,” said Cook, who had a career-high 206 rushing yards against the Lions last season. “Just try to get back to being Dalvin, help this team win games.”
Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow (toe) went on injured reserve this week, where veteran tackle Taylor Decker (finger) has been all season. The status of rookie tackle Penei Sewell (ankle) is in doubt for the game, too.
Evan Brown is expected to get the first start of his three-year, four-team career, in place of Ragnow.
“He is one of the best in the game, and I’m going to do my best to keep things flowing,” Brown said.
Zimmer considered Campbell for a previous offensive coordinator opening, an admiration that dates to their days together in Dallas from 2003-05 when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator and Campbell was a tight end on the team.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who finished last season with Detroit and returned to his original team this summer, has 7 1/2 sacks in his past six games against the Lions. In his limited role in relief behind Danielle Hunter and D.J. Wonnum, Griffen has played like he never left, but defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said he's not planning to increase his snap count.
“He looks like the old Everson to me, but I’ve still got to keep in my mind that he’s 33 years old. I’ve got to make sure that we still have Ev with us in Week 17, looking like Ev,” Patterson said.
Running back D’Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson have been Goff’s primary playmakers. He hasn't clicked consistently with his wide receivers, a relatively unproven group that has been without its most accomplished player, Tyrell Williams, since a concussion in the opener. Kalif Raymond has shown the most potential lately.
“Seeing him build off that this week will be fun,” Goff said. "He’s just a guy that continues to work hard and deserves those opportunities.”
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