DETROIT - If Matthew Stafford is Captain Clutch, Darius Slay is his first mate.
Slay intercepted a Sam Bradford pass with 30 seconds left in a tie ballgame to set up Matt Prater’s game-winning 40-yard field goal as the Detroit Lions beat the Minnesota Vikings, 16-13, to take control of the NFC North.
The Lions (7-4) have trailed in the fourth quarter of all 11 games they’ve played this year, and Stafford, who drove the Lions from inside their own 2-yard line for the game-tying field goal one possession early, was credited with his 27th come-from-behind victory.
Slay, though, came up with a huge defensive play for the second time this year.
The Vikings started their final possession at their own 25-yard line and appeared to convert a third-and-2 only to be called for an illegal formation.
On third-and-7, Bradford looked right for Adam Thielen, but Slay jumped the pass and returned the ball to the Vikings’ 20-yard line.
After Stafford took a knee, Prater came on for his fifth game-winning field goal of the year.
Slay, who missed the first Lions-Vikings game earlier this month with a pulled hamstring, also forced a key fumble to set up Prater’s game-winning kick in a Week 5 win over the Philadelphia Eagles and had a late-game interception to seal that win.
The Lions have just a one-game lead over the Vikings, but they own the tie-breaker with Minnesota (6-5) after sweeping the season series.
The Lions play three of their final five games on the road, while the Vikings play three of their final five at home.
While Thursday’s game was another defensive struggle, the Lions opened the game with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Stafford converted two third downs on the drive to Anquan Boldin, and Boldin caught a 2-yard touchdown pass to give the Lions a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings answered with Matt Asiata’s 5-yard touchdown run to tie the game after nearly turning the ball over twice on the next possession.
Ziggy Ansah hit Sam Bradford from behind to force a fumble that Haloti Ngata recovered, but replay showed that Bradford’s arm was coming forward when the ball came loose.
One play later, Glover Quin appeared to intercept a Bradford pass that deflected off receiver Laquon Treadwell, but Darius Slay was called for pass interference.
The Lions led 10-7 at halftime after Matt Prater made a 29-yard field goal, but the Vikings dominated play in the third quarter.
Kai Forbath tied the game at 10 midway through the third quarter with a 30-yard field goal, and the Vikings ran 7:36 off the clock on their next drive only to settle for another Forbath field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota had first-and-goal at the 10-yard line on its second field-goal drive, but was called for a chop-block penalty that pushed the ball back to the 25. Bradford threw short on the next three plays from scrimmage.
After trading punts, the Lions started their second-to-last drive inside the 2-yard line. Golden Tate (on a catch) and Theo Riddick (on a run) picked up 7 yards on each on the first two plays, and Stafford found Boldin for a 29-yard gain on third down later in the series.
The Vikings kept the Lions out of the end zone with a big third-down stop on Theo Riddick, only to commit their first turnover of the game a few plays later.
Stafford finished 23 of 40 for 232 yards and one touchdown after completing his first eight passes Thursday.
Bradford was 31 of 37 for 224 yards for the Vikings, who play the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys next Thursday.
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
Detroit Free Press