DETROIT - The Vikings survived a slow start Sunday, Dec. 23, in Kevin Stefanski’s second game since replacing the fired John DeFillippo as offensive coordinator.
The Vikings didn’t get a first down until there was 3:59 left in the first half but scored two quick touchdowns to take a 14-9 halftime lead and swing momentum in a 27-9 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
A 40-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen on third and 17 led to an 8-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs that cut the deficit to 9-7.
“We knew we just needed a spark,” Thielen said. “We needed some momentum.”
On the Vikings’ next possession, Cousins threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph as time expired in the first half.
In Stefanski’s first game as coordinator, the Vikings scored early and often in a 41-17 victory over Miami last week at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sunday, the Vikings had poor field position early and were bogged down by penalties. Minnesota had 11 penalties for 78 yards in the game, seven for 48 in the first half.
“Some of them were bogus,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “But we’ve just got to help ourselves by not committing so many penalties, and that’s one thing (coach Mike) Zimmer is going to do a good job of harping on this week.”
The Vikings finished with 340 yards total offense. They had 418 against the Dolphins.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes was lost with a groin strain midway through the fourth quarter, but Zimmer does not believe the injury is serious.
“I’m sure he’s going to be OK,” the coach said. “That’s pretty much Xavier. I’m sure he’ll be all right.”
Rhodes suffered a hamstring injury that looked as if it might be serious against Green Bay on Nov. 25 but played in a loss at New England the next week, albeit on a limited bases. Before that, he was sometimes benched and replaced by Holton Hill. Zimmer did not indicate that had anything to do with injury.
Marcus Sherels was lost to a foot injury in the first quarter and replaced initially by Brandon Zylstra and later rookie Chad Beebe.
Zimmer said he was generally pleased with the play of Eric Wilson, who started in place of injured middle linebacker Eric Kendricks.
Wilson tied for the team lead with seven tackles and had an 8-yard sack of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. He got his third career start in place of Kendricks, who sat out with a hamstring injury, ending a streak of 38 straight games played.
“I know that he missed a couple tackles, but I thought overall he played well,” Zimmer said. “… I thought he did a nice job in coverage, for the most part. I thought the linebackers played well all over. The (Lions) were not going to let (Anthony) Barr affect the game today.”
Barr had three sacks in the previous two games, including two against the Dolphins.
When the first quarter ended Sunday, the Vikings had eight yards rushing on five carries, and zero first downs. It was humbling.
Then again, their first three drives started at their own 1-, 25- and 13-yard lines. Hard to get anything going when backed into a field-position battle.
Cook said the Vikings had to be patient with the run.
“You’ve got to be. We knew they were going to give us their best shot,” he said. “They were flying around and doing a lot of things but we responded in a big way.”
Cook finished with 73 yards on 16 carries. Latavius Murray chipped in 22 yards on nine carries, and Minnesota finished with exactly 100 yards rushing.
“I knew it was going to be hard running the ball today,” Zimmer said. “We got the ball on the 1-yard line, so that’s going to make it more difficult because guys are going to sit in there. Penalties didn’t help us today. We had way too many of those.
“But once we started going and loosening them up a little bit, then the running game got a lot better, I thought.”
Laquon Treadwell was inactive, ending a streak of 30 straight games played. The receiver was a healthy scratch, another indication of his place in Stefanski’s pecking order. He played a season-low 22 snaps against the Dolphins. ... Receiver Chad Beebe returned after missing four games with a hamstring injury. ... Lions running back Zach Zenner got off to a good start before stalling after the first quarter. The Eagan High graduate rushed for 38 yards on four first-quarter carries but finished with 45 yards on eight attempts.