Special teams delivered a streak-busting victory for the surprising Minnesota Vikings.
Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown and Marcus Sherels scored on a 77-yard punt return as the Vikings upset the Detroit Lions 20-13 Sunday at Ford Field. Minnesota snapped an 11-game losing streak against NFC North opponents.
"We wanted to win this game as much as we wanted to win the week before," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "We knew the impact of it, the fact that we were playing a division game and what the outcome would mean for our football team. But we really didn't talk about the past."
Currently, Frazier is coaching a first-place team. Minnesota's defense held the vaunted Lions offense without a touchdown until the late going as the Vikings (3-1) equaled their 2011 win total. Adrian Peterson gained 102 yards on 21 carries and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder (16-of-26, 111 yards) remained interception-free this season.
Peterson had his first 100-yard game since suffering a serious knee injury late last season.
"He looks good. I don't know if he's going to say he's 100 percent but looks 100 percent to me," Ponder said. "You see the progression every week. He's just getting more comfortable with what he's doing. He was fantastic. He made my job a lot easier."
So did the explosive plays by the special teams unit.
"We always talk about starting fast. That's the fastest start you can get," Ponder said. "We immediately put up seven on the board. Percy is such an integral part of this offense and for this whole team. Special teams was huge, between him bringing back that one and Marcus Sherels having that punt return. Those points were huge for us."
Matt Stafford, who missed practice time this week with a hip injury, completed 30 of 51 passes for 319 yards and scored a rushing touchdown for Detroit (1-3). Rookie Mikel Leshoure, coming off a 100-yard rushing performance in his debut, was limited to 26 yards on 13 carries and committed a second-half fumble. Calvin Johnson was held to five receptions and 54 yards.
"We've just got to figure out how to start faster," Lions receiver Nate Burleson said. "We're a good team, we can put points on the board, the defense plays well. But playing from behind week in and week out, it's tough. It's the NFL. You get behind, the majority of the team you're not going to come back."
Special teams breakdowns plagued the Lions for the second straight week. They gave up two return touchdowns in an overtime loss to Tennessee the previous Sunday, including another 105-yard kickoff return by Darius Reynaud.
Sherels, a third-year cornerback, broke loose after Kassim Osgood missed a tackle immediately after Sherels caught Nick Harris' punt. His first NFL touchdown came less than two minutes into the second half and gave the Vikings a 20-6 advantage.
"This wasn't a special teams loss, this wasn't a defensive loss or offensive loss. It was all of us," Leshoure said. "It was a lot of things that factored in and we've just got to eliminate mistakes."
Detroit drove inside the Vikings' 10 early in the fourth but defensive end Everson Griffen sacked Stafford on fourth-and-goal. Stafford finally broke the Lions' touchdown drought with 2:56 remaining by extending the ball over the goal line on a 1-yard leap.
A pair of pass interference penalties by rookie cornerback Bill Bentley also contributed to the Lions' slow start, as Minnesota took a 13-6 halftime lead.
Bentley's first penalty against Jerome Simpson cost Detroit 31 yards and set up Blair Walsh's 49-yard, first-quarter field goal. His second, also against Simpson, gave the Vikings 26 yards and led to Walsh's 27-yard field goal with 8:14 remaining in the half.
Simpson made his season debut after serving a three-game NFL suspension for violating its substance abuse policy.
The Lions were limited to 40- and 31-yard field goals by Jason Hanson during the first half. Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew dropped potential touchdown passes prior to Hanson's second field goal.
NOTES: Harvin's return touchdown was the fifth of his career. ... Lions defensive end Cliff Avril suffered a back injury chasing Ponder with 13:26 remaining and did not return. ... Detroit swept Minnesota last season for the first time since 1997. ... After a bye week, the Lions play four of their next five on the road. ... The Vikings play three of their next four at home and don't have another division game until they host the Lions on Nov. 11. ... Minnesota played without two defensive starters, linebacker Erin Henderson (concussion) and safety Mistral Raymond (ankle). Detroit played without defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee).