Vikings return KO, punt for TDs, top Lions 20-13

Published 8:54 am Monday, October 1, 2012

DETROIT — For one day at least, the Minnesota Vikings can enjoy being in sole possession of first place.

That’s major progress for a team that won only three games a season ago.

“It’s not something we want to run away from or hide from,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We want to embrace it. It was one of our goals when the season began, to win the NFC North.”

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The Vikings took advantage of Detroit’s awful kick coverage Sunday, scoring on both a kickoff and a punt to beat the Lions 20-13. The win put Minnesota alone atop the North, although Chicago could join the Vikings with a victory tonight.

Minnesota (3-1) already has matched last season’s win total.

“That’s a good mark of improvement,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “It was a team win. Defense and special teams stepped up.”

Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards, and Marcus Sherels ran back the first punt of the second half 77 yards for a score. Those were the only touchdowns for the Vikings, but the Lions didn’t manage any until late in the fourth quarter. By then, Detroit was playing catch-up after making some dubious history.

When Sherels scored, Detroit became the first team since at least 1940 to give up a kickoff and a punt return for touchdowns in consecutive games, according to STATS LLC. The Lions allowed scores on a kickoff and punt in last week’s 44-41 loss in overtime at Tennessee.

“One of our major points this week was what we needed to do on kickoff because we knew Harvin’s a threat,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We didn’t get guys off blocks and we gave up a touchdown. The other one — honestly, I thought we were going to force a fumble on the play. We had a free guy and I couldn’t believe he didn’t fair catch the ball.”

Instead, Sherels took the punt in the middle of the field and made Kassim Osgood miss right away before wiggling through traffic and pulling away to put the Vikings ahead 20-6.

Detroit drove to the Minnesota 7 early in the fourth quarter, but unblocked defensive end Everson Griffen sacked Matthew Stafford on fourth down to end the threat. The Lions got right back down in scoring territory and Stafford scored on a 1-yard lunge with 2:56 left.

That set the stage for one more big play by Minnesota on special teams. Punter Chris Kluwe pinned Detroit on its own 2 with 1:42 remaining, and the Lions never came close to scoring a tying touchdown.

The Vikings ended an 11-game losing streak to division opponents, and running back Adrian Peterson looked pretty good on his surgically repaired left knee. He had 102 yards on 21 carries, running for more than 100 yards for the first time since Oct. 23, 2011.

“I’m getting stronger and stronger every week,” Peterson said. “There were five or six plays today where I thought I was going to break one, but the last guy would get me. I’m being patient, but I know it is coming.”

The Lions (1-3) have next weekend off — then play four of five games on the road. They have lost three straight since edging St. Louis 27-23 in their opener with a last-minute touchdown.

Stafford was 30 of 51 for 319 yards Sunday without much help from teammates. Brandon Pettigrew dropped a pass in the end zone, forcing Detroit to settle for a field goal and a 13-6 halftime deficit. Titus Young couldn’t catch a pass thrown right to him on third down, leading to the Lions punting from Minnesota territory for the second straight time in the third quarter.

And, just when the Lions looked as if they were going to break through offensively, Vikings safety Jamarca Sanford forced Mikel Leshoure to fumble and recovered the ball at the Minnesota 29 late in the third.

Leshoure ran for just 26 yards on 13 carries after having 100 yards rushing in his debut last week.

“We’ve just got to figure out how to start faster,” wide receiver Nate Burleson said. “We’re a good team, we can put points on the board, defense plays well. But playing from behind week in and week out, it’s tough. It’s the NFL. You get behind, the majority of the time you’re not going to come back.”