After years of Vikings dominance, Lions have become worthy rival
MINNEAPOLIS — Legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant once owned the Detroit Lions, going 26-8-1 against them.
Not-so-legendary Vikings coach Mike Tice was even more dominant, going 8-0.
Brad Childress followed Tice in 2006 and tried to better that mark, but he was just 8-1 against the Lions.
Something strange has happened, though, in recent years. The last two Minnesota coaches actually have had losing records against Detroit.
Leslie Frazier went 3-4 and Mike Zimmer is 2-4 since arriving in 2014. On Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Zimmer's unit will get another crack at the Lions in what has developed into a pretty good NFC North rivalry.
"I definitely think it has,'' said Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison. "The last two years has shown that the team that can win those two games puts themselves in good position to make the playoffs, so definitely it has become a little bit of a rivalry.''
The Vikings won both games against Detroit in 2015 and went on to claim the division crown. The Lions won both last season and earned a wild-card berth while closing the lopsided series gap to 71-38-2.
Robison, the team's longest-tenured player, showed up in 2007 and was on the winning side in six of his first seven games against Detroit. But plenty has changed since then, including the 2009 arrival of Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has started 99 straight games since 2011 and will make it 100 Sunday.
The Vikings perhaps were never more frustrated by Stafford than in last year's two devastating defeats.
Receiving a kickoff while down 16-13 with 23 seconds left and no timeouts remaining Nov. 6 at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Lions, according to Pro Football Reference, had a 0.2 percent chance of winning. But after a touchback, Stafford completed passes of 8 and 27 yards, grounded the ball, and Matt Prater kicked a 58-yard field goal at the gun to force overtime.
Stafford then completed a 22-16 win with a 28-yard touchdown pass in overtime to Golden Tate, who celebrated by doing a flip into the end zone.
"I would have flipped, too, if I made a play like that,'' said Vikings receiver Jarius Wright. "It was a hell of a play.''
Looking for revenge 2 1/2 weeks later on Thanksgiving, the Vikings held a 13-10 lead and again were in position to win in the fourth quarter. But Stafford drove the Lions 68 yards from their 2-yard-line for a game-tying 48-yard field goal by Prater with 1:49 left. Following an interception thrown by Sam Bradford, Prater won it 16-13 with a 40-yard boot on the final play.
Now, the Vikings are really looking for revenge in a meeting of 2-1 teams.
"We lost both games, not just one,'' said running back Jerick McKinnon. "I think we have that chip on our shoulder of trying to get back at them from last year.''
The Vikings dropped eight of their final 11 games after a 5-0 start to miss the playoffs. The Detroit losses were perhaps the most devastating ones during the tailspin.
They certainly were for guard Joe Berger, who had to return to his Newaygo, Mich., home during the offseason.
"Going back home with a big smile on my face is a lot more fun than having to eat it,'' Berger said. "Friendly banter, you know.''
But it hasn't always been friendly in recent seasons. In 2015, defensive end Everson Griffen guaranteed victory before a home game against the Lions, and the Vikings delivered.
Last year, even if Wright had no problem with Tate's flip, Detroit coach Jim Caldwell did. Caldwell said the day after the game, "I certainly would rather have him do something else.''
Heading into Sunday's game, Griffen again has offered up the quote of the week. Asked about going against Greg Robinson, he called the left tackle "lazy" and said "he's got to compete more.''
Regardless, there figures to be plenty of competition between the teams. The winner will keep pace with Green Bay (3-1) in the NFC North while the loser will drop to third.
Later on, the teams will battle for a second straight year on Thanksgiving at Ford Field.
"I think it's become one of the best rivalries,'' Wright said. "They even are starting to put us on Thanksgiving. I feel when you play on Thanksgiving, it's an important game, and I think the NFL thinks so, too.''