NFC North Reporter
The Detroit Lions won the NFC North for the first time with a 30-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
The last time Detroit won its division was in 1993 – when the NFC North was part of the NFC Central. The league realigned with the addition of the Houston Texans in 2002, and since then the Lions have finished second in the NFC North four times. On Sunday, they made history and won a home playoff game in the process.
“Emotionally, I think about all the guys that went 3-13, went 1-6 at the start of last year and now they can stand here as NFC North champions,” quarterback Jared Goff told NFL Network after the game.
The feat came with two games remaining in the regular season as Detroit is tied for the second-best record in the conference at 11-4. It’s only the second time since 1993 that the Lions have won 11 games. They reached double figures faster than any Detroit team since the Kennedy administration and look to have their most complete roster in recent memory.
Against the Vikings on Christmas Eve, thanks to a one-yard pass from quarterback Jared Goff, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown caught his eighth touchdown of the season. It’s the first time in franchise history that a wide receiver, tight end and running back have scored eight or more touchdowns in a season, according to Lions PR.
Rookie Jameer Gibbs scored two touchdowns on the day. Combined with their veteran running back in David Montgomery, the Lions’ running backs have 20 rushing touchdowns on the season. Gibbs and tight end Sam LaPorta have combined for 20 touchdowns, setting a new franchise record for a Lions rookie class.
Detroit’s offense is just firing on all cylinders again. They have immediate production from the top pick in the 2023 draft, a reliable veteran running back and St. Brown recorded his eighth 100-plus receiving game this year, catching 12 of 14 targets for 106 yards and a touchdown. Goff finished 30-of-40 for 257 yards and a touchdown. He found eight different receivers.
The Lions were averaging the fifth-most points in the league entering the game at 27.3. They were sixth in red zone percentage and seventh in third down conversion percentage. Detroit is third in yards per play average; second-most rushing yards and fourth-most passing yards. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, armed with experienced players all over the field, was able to turn Detroit’s offense into a force. Thanks to his creativity and flexibility, he was able to develop throughout the year and remain productive. We have no way of knowing Johnson’s offense.
After an AMAZING tackle from Justin Jefferson, Lions’ Ifeatu Melinfonwu manages to beat Vikings’ Nick Mullens
Plus, the Lions’ defense appears to be reinventing itself just in time for the postseason — and that’s before they bring CJ Gardner-Johnson back from injury. Gardner-Johnson’s return window was open and he returned to training. His return should bolster a unit that helped win the game in Minnesota.
Just as the Lions were clinging to a six-point lead with the Vikings running, safety Ifeatu Melifonwu came up with a game-sealing interception of quarterback Nick Mullens. It was the Lions’ fourth interception of the day. Safety Kerby Joseph had two and rookie safety Brian Branch had the other. Branch also forced a fumble, one of two forced by the Lions on the day.
‘There’s nothing like it’ – Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson on winning first division title for 30 years
Pass protection has struggled over the past few weeks. Those issues have had a domino effect on that side of the ball, making it difficult for a defensive front that only has Aidan Hutchinson to stick to the pass. Defensive tackle Alim McNeil is on IR but eligible to come out in Week 18, which should give Detroit another defensive boost.
Lions fans can finally rejoice. This is the year. The Detroit Lions are the division champions and firmly in the playoffs. All that remains to be determined is the standings – and the games that matter far more.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen has had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl champion (and parade floater) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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