MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings were back to their old ways on Sunday -- building a big lead behind a powerful offense and almost blowing it with a withering defense.
The Detroit Lions didn't go down easily as the Vikings watched a 25-point lead nearly evaporate in the second half, and hung on for a 31-26 victory.
"It could have gone either way," Minnesota coach Dennis Green said. "We are going to have to play much better next week against Green Bay. There's no doubt about that."
Daunte Culpepper ran seven times for 83 yards and two touchdowns, and threw for another.
A fan (left) thought the Vikings were No. 1 after defeating the Detroit Lions 31-26.
"We've got to just keep plugging at it," Culpepper said. "We're not far. I thought we ran the ball very well today against their front four."
The Vikings (2-3), who surpassed 30 points for the first time in 10 regular-season games, avoided falling into a tie for last place in the NFC Central. Culpepper was 20-for-28 for 244 yards and a touchdown, and an interception.
But Minnesota went scoreless for the last 25:25.
"We just didn't move the ball in the second half," Culpepper said. "We didn't match their intensity."
The Lions -- 0-4 for the first time since 1989 -- had scored just one touchdown in the Lions' first three games but had 20 points in the second half.
Charlie Batch, starting for the first time since Week 1, finally figured out the Lions' new West Coast offense. He was 31-of-41 for a career-high 345 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. James Stewart rushed 16 times for 108 yards and caught a scoring pass from Batch in the third quarter -- the Lions' first touchdown in seven quarters.
"I think you can see from a confidence standpoint, guys were making more plays," Batch said. "We finally took the monkey off our backs."
But a loss is a loss.
"There are a lot of positives -- but there are no moral victories," Detroit's first-year coach Marty Mornhinweg said. "The scoreboard is the only thing that counts. We're playing with toughness and intensity, but we've got to play smarter."
Detroit committed eight penalties for 90 yards. The Lions forced a Vikings punt late in the first quarter, but an offsides call gave Minnesota's Jim Kleinsasser a chance to drag Luther Elliss for 2 yards on fourth-and-1. The Vikings later scored on Travis Prentice's 1-yard plunge.
"When you are rolling, you can win with eight penalties," Mornhinweg said. "We are not rolling yet."
The Vikings were far from perfect against a Detroit defensive backfield that wound up with barely enough healthy players.
Randy Moss, who had six catches for 78 yards, dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter and let Todd Lyght wrestle an interception away from him at the Detroit 7 in the fourth.
Cris Carter caught eight passes for 111 yards and a 47-yard touchdown pass from Culpepper that put the Vikings up 31-6 in the third quarter.
But the Lions didn't fold like they did last week in a 35-0 loss to St. Louis.
Stewart caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Batch in the third to cut Minnesota's lead to 31-13. After a Vikings punt, Detroit marched 59 yards in six plays to make it 31-19 on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Batch to Crowell.
After Lyght's interception, the Lions went 93 yards in 12 plays. On fourth down at the Vikings' 21, Johnnie Morton dived to catch Batch's pass in the back end of the zone. Officials initially ruled it incomplete, but Detroit challenged and the call was reversed to make it 31-26.
"We've got to be more sound, more solid," said safety Henry Jones. "In the second half, we really gave them something. We've just got to get better."
Notes: Prentice became the first Vikings back to score on his first carry with the team. ... Detroit safeties Tommy Bennett (hamstring) and Kurt Schulz (back) and cornerback Bryant Westbrook (Achilles') weren't in uniform because of injuries. Safety Ron Rice (sprained ankle) and cornerback Terry Fair (sprained foot) got hurt during the game and didn't return. Lyght played with a sore shoulder. ... Carter scored his 127th TD, passing Jim Brown for fourth place on the NFL's career list. ... Chris Hovan had three of Minnesota's four sacks. ... Robert Porcher, Chris Claiborne and Shaun Rogers each had two sacks of Culpepper, sacked six times for the second straight game. ... Crowell caught nine passes for 125 yards.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.