The Detroit Lions were at a disadvantage, playing in a deafening stadium against a daunting Minnesota defense that’s rounding into form at midseason.
The departure of their leading pass-catcher in a trade earlier in the week left the Lions with one less way to attack the Vikings, but the absence of Golden Tate became an afterthought while the team struggled to protect its quarterback. Matthew Stafford was culpable, too, often hanging onto the ball too long.
Danielle Hunter had 3 1/2 of Minnesota’s franchise-record 10 sacks plus a fourth-quarter fumble return for a touchdown , making for a miserable afternoon for Stafford and the Lions in a 24-9 victory by the Vikings on Sunday.
“That’s a very, very, very, very talented front,” left guard Frank Ragnow said. “Dudes on every single position. So credit to them, but it’s all on us. I think we all know we need to play better than that.”
Hunter also was credited with nine tackles and four hits on Stafford as the Vikings (5-3-1) limited the Lions to a season-low 214 total yards and stopped their streak of 14-plus points at 25 straight games. The last time the Lions scored in single digits was a 17-6 loss to the New York Giants on Dec. 18, 2016.
The Lions assembled only two drives that netted more than 30 yards. Tate was certainly missed — the Lions went just 4 for 15 on third down — but the Vikings dominated this game on the line of scrimmage.
“You’re going to play some teams that are going to have some really elite rushers and who are really elite players,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “We know in our division, we’re going to get that every week. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we have to play better.”
The previous high sack total of Stafford’s 10-year career was seven, against the Vikings in 2015. He has been sacked five times or more on 15 different occasions, six of those by the Vikings. The Lions are 3-12 in those games.
“We need to learn how to be consistent all the way across the board with everything we do,” coach Matt Patricia said. “There have been some weeks we have been consistent from the start of the week through the games, and some weeks haven’t been consistent. Things change on gameday pretty quick depending on the opponent and what they’re doing, and being able to handle some of those changes affects that.”
The Vikings effectively mixed in blitzes to keep the Lions off balance, but nine of the 10 sacks were registered by their defensive linemen. Three of them came inside Minnesota’s 20, over two different possessions that ended with a field goal by Matt Prater.
Defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Tom Johnson switched places on a perfectly executed stunt that ended with them sharing a sack of Stafford on third-and-goal from the 8 early in the second quarter. Everson Griffen pushed Decker back toward Stafford, too, in a complete collapse of the pocket.
“If we go into the red zone and we score touchdowns there, then the score of the game would’ve been a lot different,” Stafford said. “We’ve got to get better.”
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