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MURPHY: Lions wrest control of NFC North from Vikings

DETROIT -- Stick a fork in the Vikings, they have been caught and stuffed in the NFC North by the deadliest fourth-quarter marksmen in the league. It is the Lions' division to lose now, which seems a wholly unfair burden to place on a perpetually...

Nov 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions outside linebacker Josh Bynes (57) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Lions win 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions outside linebacker Josh Bynes (57) reacts after a play during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Lions win 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT - Stick a fork in the Vikings, they have been caught and stuffed in the NFC North by the deadliest fourth-quarter marksmen in the league.

It is the Lions' division to lose now, which seems a wholly unfair burden to place on a perpetually self-destructive franchise, except Detroit suddenly knows how to win when it matters most.

Minnesota is free falling out of playoff contention with an unsustainable offense and a weakening defense, neither of which seem capable of putting away teams when the stakes are highest.

The Lions' 16-13 victory Thursday at Ford Field completed a dramatic power shift in the conference's weakest division as quarterback Matthew Stafford and his Cardiac Cats have seized control with two comeback wins over the Purple in the past three weeks.

The Vikings trail the Lions by two games because the leaders now hold the tiebreaker. Moreover, they are staring down the barrel of .500 with the Dallas Cowboys rolling into U.S. Bank Stadium next week for a prime-time showcase that feels more like an Irish wake.

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5-oh? Try 6 and woe.

"Listen, I don't give a (expletive) how it happens, as long as we get into the playoffs," said left guard Alex Boone.

They will not get there by allowing two field goals in the final 1:49 to lose a lead.

Or if wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is penalized for illegal formation on third-and-2 with 43 seconds remaining because he failed to toe the line of scrimmage.

Not when quarterback Sam Bradford falls into a coverage trap the very next play and telegraphs a pass to a zoned-out cornerback like Darius Slay, who jumped in front of Adam Thielen for the interception that fated Minnesota's fifth loss in six games.

Or cornerback Captain Munnerlyn getting flagged for defensive holding on third down, extending Detroit's game-tying drive.

Not by failing to take a single shot in the end zone and coming away with just three points after first-and-goal at the 10 early in the fourth.

Or by expanding the offensive line infirmary to house two more walking wounded.

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The Vikings gained 306 yards of offense and needed hammer and tong for every one. Penalties and lost yardage compounded the stress.

"We just can't continue to shoot ourselves in the foot," lamented coach Mike Zimmer.

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs was out with a knee injury, eliminating their only viable downfield threat.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has done an admirable job wringing production from reverses and misdirection out of the wildcat formation, and chipping away underneath coverage with quick slants and conservative routes.

The Vikings even had a viable running attack on Thursday, which allowed them to nibble on what the Lions allowed them. But without Diggs to work his magic in space, and Bradford vulnerable to unreliable protection, there was no threat of going over the top of Detroit's defense, which boxed them in tight.

"We've probably got to find a way to create some more explosive plays," said Bradford. "It's hard when you're only picking up five, six, seven (yards) at a time."

Godspeed, Sam. Dropping back seven steps behind this battered line and waiting for a receiver to work his way open downfield is akin walking blindfolded toward a running propeller.

Center Joe Berger avoided the injury plague for 12 weeks until a first-half concussion sent him to the locker room and forced Nick Easton into action for the first time in that position for the Vikings.

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Reserve right tackle Jeremiah Sirles suffered a hip injury in the fourth quarter. Leave it to rookie Willie Beavers, who grew up in suburban Detroit, as the latest offensive lineman to spin through the revolving door. Twelve had played snaps this season.

"At some point we've got to catch a break," said tight end Kyle Rudolph. "You look at the attrition we've had, just on offense up front, it's hard. You try to get into a rhythm. Those five played well together. You start to get into a rhythm and another guy goes down. We can't make excuses. It's just unfortunate."

Meanwhile, the Lions won for the seventh time with a fourth-quarter comeback. This holiday feasting on the Vikings was not as dramatic as Stafford's last-minute gun-slinging and Matt Prater's last-second big footing Nov. 6 in Detroit's overtime victory at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Lions did not have to take Thursday with the Vikings in such a giving mood.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGSFOOTBALL
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