by Patrick P. Marek
Overcome the Lions and referees to win 30-23
Mike Zimmer has never won an NFL game on Thanksgiving. Last year his holiday was ruined when Darius Slay intercepted a Matt Stafford pass with 30 seconds left and Matt Prater kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired. However, like everything else this season, it looked like things were finally going to go Minnesota’s way. Case Keenum came out hotter than your mother’s homemade biscuits fresh from the oven, leading the Vikings on a tasty scoring drive on the team’s first possession. Then Keenum finished off the Vikings’ next drive with a nine-yard scoring run out of the read option. Keenum missed out on the team’s famous leapfrog touchdown celebration two weeks ago. On Thursday he got to join his teammates when they made a circle in the end zone. Stefan Diggs leaped in the middle with a football that was supposed to be a turkey, and everybody pretended to eat. Keenum did his best impression of eating turkey. Is this team fun or what? The Detroit fans booed.
There was plenty to be thankful for when Keenum dropped a beautiful pass into the bucket and found Kyle Rudolph in the corner of the end zone for a 20-3 lead with only 37 second left in the half. Break out the eggnog! Let the merriment be unrestrained. Our ghosts of Thanksgiving past were going to be vanquished. All we had to do is hold the Lions for the rest of the half and then Minnesota would the ball back for the second half kick-off. The Lions were on their own 25, and Minnesota had a top-five defense. No worries right?
Then, like that obnoxious uncle who insists on arguing politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table, the referees burst on the scene, took over the game, and nearly ruined the holiday for everybody but Lions fans. The officials escorted Detroit down the field as they scored on a three-play drive that was set up by a ridiculous 22-yard pass interference penalty that was called on Xavier Rhodes. This signaled a flurry of flags in a game that even had Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and even former Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira frequently questioning officials’ calls, even though the crew chief was best man at his wedding. The worst offense was a horrible non-pass interference call when Stefan Diggs was mauled on a bomb that could have put the Vikings in position to move comfortably ahead to stay. The defender had his head away from the pass, and blasted Diggs before the ball arrived. It was textbook pass interference, but the flags stayed glued in the officials’ pockets. There was plenty of yellow laundry on display for the rest of the game, however, including a laughable taunting call on Case Keenum for gently flipping the ball to the ground after he was sacked.
The Vikings began the second half with a scoring drive where they stayed exclusively on the ground. The drive featured a 46-yard Latavius Murry run, two great rushes by Jerick McKinnon, and a two-yard touchdown by Murry. Unfortunately, the Vikings immediately went into an offensive shell for the rest of the second half. The Diggs non-call was the second half’s most dynamic play. The rest of the game was like a time travel trip back to the Adrian Peterson era, with a run up the middle every first down.
Adam Thielen became the first Minnesota receiver since Sidney Rice to go over 1,000 yards in a season with a 26-yard reception from Keenum with 11:27 in the game. Thielen is an incredibly likable athlete on a team that seems like it is filled with good guys. He is the most surehanded receiver and precise route runner Minnesota has had since Chris Carter … and best of all, he is the architect of some of the best touchdown celebrations in the NFL.
After Stafford suffered an ankle injury the Vikings seemed to have the game well in hand and were kicking a field goal to make it a two-score game … when it looked like Minnesota was choking on their stuffing. Darius Slay blocked Forbath’s kick, and Nevin Lawson picked it up and ran it into the end zone for the apparent tying score. Visions of overtime losses were prancing through Minnesota fans’ heads. Was Thanksgiving going to be ruined by a heartbreaking overtime loss? Then the yellow “flag” alert appeared on the screen. Detroit was offsides. They were offsides so much that the officials were forced to call it. Five-yard penalty, first down, and the Vikings went into victory formation. Carve that turkey, pass the potatoes, and give thanks. The Vikings are 9-2 and lead the division by three games.