LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — DeAndre Levy had a fist full of Joe Webb’s facemask, got away with it, and wasn’t apologizing for Detroit’s good fortune in a 34-28 win over Minnesota on Sunday.
“We get a lot of calls called against us,” the Lions linebacker said. “So, they owed us one if I did.”
Detroit (8-5) is still in prime position in the NFC wild-card race. Barely.
Webb had the Vikings a yard away from a potential winning touchdown on the game’s final snap, but the backup quarterback fumbled just before Levy’s right hand tugged his facemask, and a penalty wasn’t called.
“I didn’t see a replay, but people have told me that they grabbed Joe’s facemask,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said.
Oh, the Vikings (2-11) will get plenty of chances to see an apparent missed call that would’ve given them one more shot to win with no time on the clock.
“No one is going to remember how this game ended,” insisted Detroit defensive end Cliff Avril, who fell on the loose ball at the Minnesota 43 to conclude the wild final play. “It only matters that we got the win.”
The Lions, seeking to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season, were in a precarious spot coming in after losing five of seven.
They looked as though they were going to win easily, leading by 21 twice in the first half, but Webb made it interesting when he replaced Christian Ponder in the third quarter after the rookie’s fourth turnover.
Webb ran for a 65-yard score to pull the Vikings within 10 points late in the third and tossed a 2-yard TD pass to Toby Gerhart that made it 34-28 midway through the fourth quarter
Detroit didn’t pick up enough first downs to seal the victory, giving Webb another opportunity.
He drove the Vikings down the field, and they had first-and-goal at the 1 with 9 seconds left after Avril jumped offside to stop the clock and move Minnesota a yard closer to the end zone.
Replays clearly showed Levy yanking Webb’s facemask, but a flag wasn’t thrown. Levy’s hand grazed the ball, knocking it loose, just before he grabbed on, and he was credited with the sack and forced fumble.
The ball popped free at the 11 and was batted back toward midfield by Detroit’s Stephen Tulloch. Webb ran it down and tried to pick it up, but the football came loose again and Avril pounced on it.
Webb couldn’t complain afterward because he said couldn’t remember what happened.
“I had so many things running through my head,” Webb said. “I was just trying to make a play.”
Matthew Stafford threw for two scores in the first quarter to give Detroit one of its three-touchdown leads. But the Vikings, playing for pride, nearly rallied from a 31-14 halftime deficit and a 34-21 hole early in the fourth quarter.
The Lions almost blew a big lead as the Vikings did in Week 3 against them.
Detroit won at Minnesota 26-23 in overtime after trailing 20-0 at halftime. This time, Detroit led by 17 after two quarters despite making just five first downs and going 0-for-5 on third down.
The Vikings committed four turnovers in the first half, including a play when running back Lorenzo Booker fumbled without being touched, and finished with six.
Ponder was benched after his fourth turnover. He fumbled on his first play of the game, getting stripped by Avril, and Tulloch recovered for a score. Ponder threw an interception on his fourth snap to set up Stafford’s first TD pass. Alphonso Smith made his second interception early in the second quarter and returned it for a TD to give Detroit a 28-7 lead.
“I gave them 17 points in the first half,” Ponder said.
Ponder’s day was done after he threw his third interception on the opening drive of the third quarter, faking a handoff to no one, rolling right and throwing over the middle to cornerback Eric Wright.
Webb replaced Ponder and promptly scored on his long run to pull Minnesota within 31-21.
The Lions stalled at the Vikings 2 on the ensuing drive, and instead of going for it on fourth-and-1, they settled for Jason Hanson’s field goal and a 34-21 lead.
That almost wasn’t big enough.
“We just got to close out teams,” Tulloch said. “We can’t get comfortable.”
NOTES: Stafford was 20 of 29 for 227 yards without a turnover. … Ponder, playing with a hip pointer, was 11 of 21 for 115 yards with two TDs. Frazier said he’d start next week if healthy. … Webb ran for 109 yards and was 12 of 23 for another 84. … Vikings RB Adrian Peterson missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle. … Minnesota’s Percy Harvin had a career-high 10 receptions for 109 yards and a score. … Detroit was missing RB Kevin Smith (right ankle), two starters in the secondary — Louis Delmas (right knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (left knee) — and DT Ndamukong Suh, who served the second of his two-game suspension for stomping on a Green Bay Packer on Thanksgiving. … Vikings DE Jared Allen had three sacks for the second time against Detroit this year, putting him at 100½ sacks over his eight-year career.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)