Lions lose record-breaking rookie LaPorta to knee injury in win over Vikings
DETROIT (AP) — Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was determined to close the regular season with a win, taking the risk of getting players hurt in hopes of moving from the No. 3 to the No. 2 seed in the NFC and potentially hosting two or more playoff games.
Detroit won a franchise record-tying 12th game, beating Minnesota, but lost standout rookie tight end Sam LaPorta to a potentially serious knee injury.
LaPorta had a 2-yard touchdown catch midway through the first quarter and later limped off the field with a knee injury as the Lions went on to beat the Vikings 30-20 on Sunday. It was an ominous development for the NFC champions a week before the postseason.
“You’re either all in or all out," Campbell said.
Detroit (12-5) matched the 1991 team's win total and will host a playoff game for the first time since the 1993 season, when it played at the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Lions secured the No. 3 seed by winning a division title for the first time in three decades. They needed Dallas to lose later Sunday at Washington to move up a spot in the NFC, but the Cowboys had no trouble with the last-place Commanders, winning 38-10 to earn the No. 2 seed.
Detroit will host its former quarterback, Matthew Stafford, and the Los Angeles Rams in the playoffs next Sunday night, and the Lions will spend the week hoping LaPorta is healthy enough to help them earn a second playoff victory since winning the 1957 league title.
LaPorta had 86 catches, an NFL record by a rookie tight end that surpassed Keith Jackson’s 81 receptions in 1988 with the Philadelphia Eagles. The second-round pick from Iowa had 889 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns.
“You can’t replace that chemistry,” quarterback Jared Goff said.
Goff was 23 of 32 for 320 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth quarter.
Minnesota (7-10) was eliminated from playoff contention, losing four straight games and six of seven in a season stunted by Kirk Cousins' torn Achilles tendon and the team's inability to replace him.
“I appreciate the way these guys battled all the way to the end, despite all the adversity and all the injuries,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said.
Nick Mullens, one of three quarterbacks to start for the Vikings over their final five games, lofted a 38-yard touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson in the final minute of the third quarter and had a 42-yard pass to Jordan Addison for another score on his next possession to keep Minnesota within a touchdown.
Mullens threw interceptions to Cam Sutton and C.J. Gardner-Johnson late in the fourth, ending Minnesota's comeback hopes. He finished 30 of 44 for 396 yards.
As usual, Jefferson did his part for the Vikings.
He had a career-high-matching 12 catches for a season-high 192 yards and a score. Jefferson, who missed seven games with a hamstring injury, joined Wes Chandler (1982) and Jim Benton (1945) as the only players in league history to have 1,000 yards receiving in 10 or fewer games.
“It is so impressive what he has been able to accomplish in a year with so much adversity and with all the defensive looks he saw,” O'Connell said. “When he is available for a full game, he’s as dominant as anyone in the league.”
A week after a much-disputed call negated a go-ahead, 2-point conversion against the Cowboys, fans at Ford Field roared each time offensive lineman Dan Skipper reported as eligible and cheered even louder when he caught a 4-yard pass.
Vikings: OG Ed Ingram (shoulder) was not cleared to play after being listed as questionable, joining OT Brian O’Neill (ankle) and with CBs Mekhi Blackmon (shoulder) and Byron Murphy (knee) on the inactive list.
Lions: LaPorta's injury looms large. Return specialist Kalif Ray was also ruled out during the game with a knee injury. WR Jameson Williams (ankle) was inactive with an ankle injury.
Vikings: Missed the playoffs for third time in four years, failing to earn consecutive postseason bids for the first time since the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Minnesota won 13 games and the NFC North last year in O’Connell's debut season.
“We need to go into the offseason and figure out what the difference was between Year 1 and Year 2," he said.
Lions: Host a playoff game at Ford Field for the first time — and in prime time — as they aim to win a postseason game for the first time since beating Dallas on Jan. 5, 1992. The Lions haven't played the Rams since Oct. 24, 2021, when Stafford led Los Angeles to a 28-19 victory at SoFi Stadium that dropped Detroit to 0-7. The Rams won the Super Bowl that season, but since then, the Lions have been ascendant.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL