Defense: 3.5/5 stars
Talk about exciting for right and wrong reasons. The defense managed to step up in big moments, racking up four interceptions and four sacks at critical times.
The issues with explosive plays continued though. Allowing Nick Mullens throw for over 400 yards with what wound up to be an injury-depleted group of pass catchers is not ideal.
But the good outweighed the bad.
Defensive player of the game: S Ifeatu Melifonwu
It is remarkable how good Melifonwu has been over the last two games. Against the Vikings, had a pair of sacks as Aaron Glenn continued to dial up safety blitzes for him. He had a few nice pass breakups, including one against Justin Jefferson on the final drive, and of course the game-sealing interception.
With his play, Melifonwu has clearly carved out a role in this defense when C.J. Gardner-Johnson makes his return.
As mentioned earlier, Jahmyr Gibbs is playing at an absurd level right now. The rookie now has averaged at least 5.3 yards per carry in the last four games and has scored five touchdowns in his last three. He’s up to 872 rushing yards on the season, which is just 38 yards behind David Montgomery despite having 41 fewer rushing attempts. Despite losing a fumble in this game, Gibbs was playing so well that Montgomery didn’t see the field for almost an entire quarter. They even kept Gibbs on the field for goal-line work. He’s quite simply been incredible.
With no Derrick Barnes in this game, Jack Campbell saw an increased workload. But he was used a lot more on early downs as an off-ball linebacker and moved to SAM on obvious passing downs. The Lions seem to like the juice he can bring off the edge as a situational pass rusher, so that’s something to monitor heading toward the playoffs.
Sam LaPorta had a down game. Held to just three catches for 18 yards for the second time this season. It wasn’t that he did anything wrong, as he was still very good as a blocker. The Lions just didn’t need him as a receiver this week.
Brian Branch started Sunday’s game on a very low note. On the Vikings' first drive, he got flagged for holding on third-and=goal which gave Minnesota a fresh set of downs. The very next play, he dropped what would have been an interception with a lot of green in front of him. After that though, he bounced back with an interception. All in all, a very mixed day for Branch.
Needs improvement: Limiting explosive plays on defense
Because nothing can ever be easy, the Vikings (mainly Justin Jefferson) made life extremely difficult for the Lions by generating a number of explosive plays. The Lions could have won this game in a much less stressful fashion. But time and time again, when it looked as though the Lions were about to pull away, the Vikings hit a big play to stay alive.
Against a team with a quarterback who isn’t as prone to mistakes, the Lions will be in trouble if they don’t settle things in the secondary.
Play of the game: Ifeatu Melifonwu’s game-winning interception
January 30th, 2021. The Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Jared Goff, two future first-round picks, and a 2021 third-round pick. Fast forward to Sunday, and that third-round pick ends up making the play to clinch the Lions' first division title in 30 years.