DETROIT — Case Keenum and the Minnesota Vikings are breezing through this difficult stretch on their schedule.
Now they can lose a game or two and still win the NFC North.
Keenum threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, and the Vikings never trailed in a 30-23 victory over Detroit on Thursday.
Minnesota extended its lead atop the division to three games over the Lions, and the Vikings have won seven straight since a 14-7 loss to Detroit on Oct. 1.
“We knew how important it was to win this game, especially after they beat us at home,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “This means that every goal we had at the start of the season is still on the table.”
Minnesota won at Washington and beat the Los Angeles Rams before coming to Detroit and winning. The Vikings (9-2) now have road games against Atlanta and Carolina.
But they’re sitting pretty compared to the Lions (6-5), who are now probably going to need a wild card to make the playoffs. Another slow start cost Detroit, and quarterback Matthew Stafford appeared to hurt his ankle in the fourth quarter.
Stafford came back into the game, but the Lions couldn’t complete another comeback after rallying from double-digit deficits against Chicago and Cleveland the previous two weeks.
“Dug a little bit too much of a hole, and we just didn’t perform well there at the onset, and any time you do that against a good team, it’s going to be tough,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “Some of those holes are a little bit too big to dig out of.”
Marvin Jones had a terrific game for the Lions, catching six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns, but as usual, Detroit struggled to show any balance on offense, and Stafford wasn’t especially sharp even before his injury.
Here are a few things we learned from Minnesota’s victory over the Lions:
Teddy Bridgewater is back from a knee injury, but the Vikings don’t seem to need him the way Keenum is playing. Keenum went 21 of 30, did not throw an interception and also ran for a TD.
“Case is playing outstanding. He’s a great competitor, studies his rear end off, works extremely hard I think. And today, he seemed like he was more settled,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said.
“There’s times when he gets a little bit excitable and kind of goes off the reservation a little bit. But today, even throughout the course of the game, he seemed like he was in a pretty good mindset.”
The Lions looked out of sorts from the very start in what was a huge game for their postseason chances. Detroit had only 10 players on defense for the game’s first touchdown, a 1-yard pass from Keenum to Rudolph.
“Communication problem,” Caldwell said. “I’ve got to get it fixed.”
Minnesota’s Everson Griffen celebrated the birth of his son with two sacks and got the better of Detroit tackle Taylor Decker throughout the game. The Vikings had six sacks against the Lions last month. Stafford was sacked three times Thursday in the Thanksgiving rematch.
One concern for Minnesota was special teams. Kai Forbath had an extra point and a field goal blocked. Another kick toward the very end of the game was blocked and returned for what could have been a game-tying touchdown, but Detroit was clearly offside on the play. The penalty allowed the Vikings to kneel out the clock.
The Lions rushed for only 53 yards. Minnesota had more than that just on the opening drive of the second half. The Vikings marched 75 yards on four plays — runs of 46 yards by Latavius Murray, 16 by Jerick McKinnon, 11 by McKinnon and 2 by Murray. The short run by Murray was for a touchdown, giving Minnesota a 27-10 lead.
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister