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Vikings take playoff push to Detroit to face Lions

December 20, 2018
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FILE - In this Nov. 25, 2018, file photo, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter, left, celebrates with teammate Anthony Barr (55) after sacking Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the second half of an NFL football game in Minneapolis. Minnesota's defense has been dominant down the stretch, and the Vikings have three Pro Bowlers on that side of the ball to show for it with Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn, File)

DETROIT (AP) — A season of ups and downs for the Minnesota Vikings comes down to this: beat Detroit and Chicago and they’re in the playoffs.

First up are the banged-up Lions, who have already been eliminated from postseason contention, but with so much at stake, the Vikings can’t afford to look too far ahead.

“We know what we’ve got to do at this point. We know how we’ve got to play,” running back Dalvin Cook said. “There’s little time for error right now. We just have to go out there and play clean football and win football games.”

Minnesota won just one of its first four games this season, and the Vikings haven’t come close to matching last year’s 13-3 record. There will be no division title — Chicago already clinched that — but if the season ended now, the Vikings would be in the playoffs, so they still have all sorts of opportunities ahead of them.

First, they’ll try to take care of business in Detroit.

While Minnesota (7-6-1) has been underwhelming this season, the Lions (5-9) never really looked like contenders. They dropped their first two games, traded receiver Golden Tate and have now lost a handful of key players to injuries. Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, defensive end Ziggy Ansah and wide receiver Marvin Jones are all on injured reserve.

Detroit hasn’t scored more than 22 points in any of its last eight games.

“Obviously the playoffs are, that’s the goal and that’s what you’re shooting for every single week,” said Matt Patricia, the Lions’ first-year coach. “The thing that’s different, I think, is that every week you don’t walk into the room and talk about playoffs. You just kind of walk in and talk about the game that week. ... The fact is, we still have to go play a really good Minnesota team this weekend that’s coming off a huge win.”

The Vikings beat Miami 41-17 last weekend.

A few more things to watch when the Lions host the Vikings:

STACKS OF SACKS

The Vikings set a franchise record with 10 sacks in a win over the Lions earlier this season , and they’re coming off a nine-sack performance against Miami. They lead the league with 47 sacks.

“You know that they’re going to come out there, they’re game-planning against what we’ve done the first time,” said defensive end Danielle Hunter, who’s tied for second in the NFL with a career-high 14½ sacks. “We’d expect to see more max protection, them running the ball and all that. Stuff like that.”

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has been sacked five times or more in 16 games of his 10-year career, and seven of those were against the Vikings.

STREAK

Stafford missed 19 games in his first two seasons while plagued by injuries. He’s started every game since, a streak of 126, not including the playoffs.

“It means a lot. Well documented, first two years, (I) missed a bunch and I wanted to prove to my teammates, this organization, myself, everybody, that I could be out there for extended periods of time,” Stafford said.

Stafford has been limited in practice recently because of back issues, but he pushed back against the idea he should sit now, with the playoffs out of reach.

“I spend all offseason and all season working hard to play in games with these teammates and for this organization,” he said. ”(I) take no games for granted and go out there and play whenever I feel like I can.”

READY TO RETURN

The first of five career punt returns for touchdowns for the Vikings by Marcus Sherels came on Sept. 30, 2012, at Detroit. Last week against the Dolphins, Sherels had a 70-yard return and totaled 116 yards on five returns.

“We kind of challenged him a little bit this last week at being more aggressive,” coach Mike Zimmer said.

Detroit has activated returner Jamal Agnew off IR. He was an All-Pro last season.

ANOTHER OPTION

With opponents frequently sending double teams at Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Vikings have needed other pass catchers to step up for quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Aldrick Robinson, who was signed as a free agent two weeks into the season, has shown some potential. His 40-yard touchdown reception against the Dolphins gave him five scores in 10 games. He’s reached the end zone on nearly 30 percent of his 17 receptions.

MARK OF FAILURE

From 2001-12, the Lions had double-digit losses 10 times in 12 seasons. It hasn’t happened since that 2012 season, but Detroit needs to win its final two games to avoid it this year.

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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