Five things to watch as Detroit Lions face Minnesota Vikings

ALLEN PARK — Focus is key in this late-season NFC North contest between the LIons and the Minnesota Vikings.

The Lions (3-8-1) are out of the playoffs heading to Minnesota where the Vikings (8-4) are still trying to scrap together meaningful wins.

“I think for all of us we know how important the division is, that’s the first and foremost, but within each week that game is the most important. It’s a critical game because it’s our next game,’’ Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “That’s certainly how we approach it and things for next year always change. You can’t predict what’s going to happen as far as next year is concerned, from your team to other teams and across the League. What’s most important for us is this week.”

The Vikings won the first matchup, 42-30, on Oct. 20. After a tie at half-time, Detroit was outscored 21-9 in the second half.

Minnesota owns just a 1-2 record in the NFC North which is better than Detroit’s 0-4 mark.

Minnesota is coming off a loss at Seattle on Monday night. Coach Mike Zimmer is not afraid of losing focus because they’re facing a team that has lost five straight. 

“I don’t think so. It’s a division game, it’s important to us. We lost last week. We have to win games, and we have to go out and execute and do the things we have to do to win games,’’ Zimmer said on a conference call. “Trust me, we have all the respect in the world for the Lions and what they’re able to do and the players that they have.”

Five things to watch: 

1. The Lions defense has shown some improvement against the run in recent weeks. They need to maintain that against Vikings running back Dalvin Cook who gashed the Lions for 142 yards in their first meeting.  Cook has been injured but is expected to play.

2. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been dangerous this season with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s thrown just two picks in the last 10 games. In the first game, he threw four touchdown passes against the Lions’ defense. “I would say they’re doing a great job of calling plays that fit right into his strong points,’’ Patricia said. “Obviously, the run game sets up a lot for the play-action, and the move out of the pocket sort of plays that they’re able to kind of get him out there and get him in space.’’

3. Protect quarterback David Blough in his second start. Even though the Lions lost to the Bears, the rookie was impressive in his debut on Thanksgiving. Stafford was sacked twice by the Vikings in their first meeting, both coming in the second half.

4. Let Bo Scarbrough run. The running back, who kind of came out of nowhere and has averaged 4.5 yards per carry with 53 touches for 236 yards in three games. Against Chicago, in key situations Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic got the ball when it was Scarbrough who was having success.

5. It’s up to Patricia to keep the team pumped up the rest of the season. It might be even tougher going into a tough environment like U.S. Bank Stadium where the Vikings are 5-0. The Lions are 1-4-1 on the road. 

PREDICTION:  Vikings 40, Lions 24

Lions QB David Blough impressive in NFL debut despite loss to Bears

DETROIT — David Blough said Thanksgiving was what he dreamed about as a kid.

The Lions third-string quarterback started against the Bears in the nationally televised Thanksgiving game.

Although perhaps in his dreams, Blough was able to pull out the win. Instead on Thursday, the Lions lost 24-20 to Chicago.

Still, Blough — a rookie who had never played in an NFL regular season game — was impressive.

Ini his first drive, after throwing a short incompletion to T.J. Hockenson, he aired it out and connected with Kenny Golladay on a 75-yard touchdown pass play. It was his first of four passes for 158 yards to Golladay.

Welcome to Detroit, David Blough.

On his second drive he took the offense 75 yards down the field, wrapping it up with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones Jr. 

“Even though it was a short week, we all had a lot of confidence in him. He had a chip on his shoulder during the week. He was very confident,’’ Golladay said. “He even told (Matt Patricia) Matty P, ‘I’m ready to rip it.’ He definitely stepped-up to the challenge. I’m proud of him.”

Blough, who was undrafted out of Purdue, signed as a free agent in June with Cleveland and came to Detroit in a trade following training camp. 

He finished the game 22 of 38 for 280 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 87.6 rating. 

“Going into it I felt comfortable and prepared. In the short week we had a great plan to go into the game and take our shots. We were hoping a guy like me could come in, throw some checkdowns. We were going to throw it around a little bit, credit that to (offensive coordinator Darrell) Bevell you saw how open Kenny was and made great plays, I think that’s where a lot of the credit belongs in the quick start for us.’’

Driskel, who started the previous three games, was bothered by a hamstring since the loss to the Redskins on Sunday. Bough found out on Wednesday night before team meetings that he would be the starter. 

“I had been getting a lot of the reps in the walk-throughs and practices leading up to this week I was ready to go,’’ Blough said. “I prepare every week to play on the field it just so happened it was done on a short week, Matthew has been out, a couple different twists and turns. They told me last night and I was pretty excited.’’

He said one of the best things about his day was all the support he received from the coaches and teammates.

“I just wanted to give everything that I had and the guys lifted me up. It was incredible to have the veterans, to have (Danny) Amendola, the guys just come around me and, ‘Hey, we have your back.’ That was encouraging to me as a guy who’s just been here 10 or 11 weeks or whatever it is, to know that I had those guys in my corner,’’ Blough said. “That was special.”

Detroit Lions defense falters again in Thanksgiving loss to Bears

DETROIT — David Blough, the Detroit Lions’ third-string quarterback played beyond most expectations but once again Detroit’s defense came up short.

Blough, in for the injured Jeff Driskel, threw touchdown passes on his first two drives to give the Lions a one-touchdown lead.

Still the Bears came back and beat the Lions, 24-20, on Thanksgiving at Ford Field.

Coach Matt Patricia said he loves the fight he sees in his bunch and their toughness, but it is not enough.

“This is one of the toughest teams I’ve probably ever been around, this team fights like no other team I’ve ever seen we have to find a way to win, we have to find a way to break through that thing that’s stopping us right now and smash that and get going,’’ Patricia said. “… Obviously the goal is to win and that’s what we have to get done and we will, we’re building toward that and working toward that every single day.’’

The Lions have lost five straight, eight of their last nine, are 3-8-1 and are officially out of playoff contention.

“I think a lot of it is obviously the tangible thing is the mistakes in the game that we have to eliminate, we have to push through and make a couple more plays or coach a couple things better, get that cleaned up,’’ Patricia said.

Safety Tracy Walker said Patricia’s message to the team was that they can’t settle for losses. “So we are just going to continue to try to improve and continue to correct the mistakes we made,’’ Walker said.

The Lions were up 17-10 at the half, but the Bears scored touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters. On the first Mitchell Trubisky passed 18 yards  to tight end Jesper Horsted for the score. It was just Horsted’s second catch all season and his first touchdown. Will Harris was on the coverage.

With 6:40 left in the game, and the Lions leading 20-17, the Bears’ 90-yard touchdown drive included passses of 35 and 32 yards to Anthony Miller, it was capped with a 3-yard touchdown pass to David Montgomery. 

That gave the Bears a 24-20 lead. 

Blough and the Lions’ offense had 2:12 left but couldn’t get the ball in the end zone.

Trubisky has struggled much of the season except in the two wins against the Lions. He’s thrown 13 touchdown passes all season, six of them against the Detroit defense including three on Thanksgiving.

He wasn’t pressure much all day.

“He was throwing the ball fairly fast, got rid of the ball. They out-executed (us) on a lot of different things like that. We just weren’t able to bring him down a lot of times,’’ defensive end Trey Flowers said. “He’s definitely a guy that’s dynamic with his feet, so he’s able to make a few plays, escape the pocket and continue to scramble.”

Flowers sacked Trubisky on a third-and-7 early in the fourth for a loss of 7 yards forcing the Bears to punt.

Chicago had a better second half which has been the case most of the season with Lions’ opponents. Detroit has been outscored 105-70 in the fourth quarter. 

“The quarterback kind of extended a lot of plays and made a lot of plays on the run. We have to do better in the back end, extending plays, finding our guys, plastering around,’’ said cornerback Darius Slay who intercepted Trubisky. “What they did was extend plays, and they overall just were controlling the game almost.”