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NFC North in complete chaos after Matthew Stafford carries Lions over Vikings

After stumbling to a 1–3 start, the Detroit Lions have won three of their last four to pull above .500 heading into their bye. The Minnesota Vikings have done almost the exact opposite—starting 5–0 before losing three straight—sending the NFC North into shambles.

The Detroit Lions have won five games this season. Matthew Stafford has orchestrated a fourth-quarter comeback in all of them.

On Sunday he pulled off a dramatic 22–16 overtime win at Minnesota, just when it looked like Detriot had lost all hope. The Vikings scored to take a three-point lead with 23 seconds left, leaving the Lions needing to move about 35 yards (without a timeout) to take a crack at a game-tying field goal.

Stafford made it happen with a short eight-yard dump-off to Golden Tate, followed by a 27-yard dart to Andre Roberts—exactly 35 yards combined. He spiked the ball to stop the clock and Matt Prater drilled a 58-yard field goal to force OT. Stafford then hit on five of six passes in the extra sessions, capped by a touchdown strike to Golden Tate.

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It goes without saying that the Lions would prefer to, ya know, not be trailing late in every game (or to have closed out the four games that got away). But if the Stafford-for-MVP case is to be made, his play when games are on the line is the driving factor. Same goes for the Lions’ hopes of making the playoffs—or winning the division. Without Stafford slinging the ball around every Sunday, Detroit would be well out of the postseason picture as it heads into its bye.

Thanks to the win over the Vikings, the NFC North is in complete chaos instead. Minnesota has lost three straight to fall to 5–3, the Lions are now 5–4 and the Packers (4–4 after a loss to the Colts) close the season by playing those teams back-to-back.

The division’s sudden competitiveness continues to signal a drastic, unwelcome reversal of course for the Vikings, too. Their woes have been much publicized of late, including this week’s sudden resignation of offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Minnesota showed changes on that side of the ball almost immediately, with replacement O.C. Pat Shurmur leaning on a short-passing game out of the gate—Sam Bradford’s high 8.8 yards-per-completion rate for the day was bolstered by a 32-yard swing pass to Ronnie Hillman and two connections with Adam Thielen on Minnesota’s final drive.

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The same problems materialized again, though: a non-existent run game and troublesome blocking. Worse yet, the Vikings’ defense could not come through when the offense did answer the bell. It surrendered a nearly 10-minute touchdown drive to end the first half, the game-tying field goal late and an 87-yard TD march in overtime.

As a result, the Lions landed a roundhouse kick in the NFC North race.

Bet against them based on their checkered history or even on their up-and-down season to date, but they’re in this now. The Lions come out of their bye to host Jacksonville in Week 11 and then Minnesota on Thanksgiving Day. Way down the line, they welcome Green Bay to Motown on the season’s final Sunday.

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Perhaps Detroit is not playing for anything by that Week 17 date, but it’s hard to kill something that won’t die. No team in the league has been as difficult to put away as the Lions.

Stafford deserves most, if not all, of the credit for his team’s resiliency. His still has an occasional what-are-you-doing moment—Sunday, it came when he tossed an interception right into the hands of Minnesota linebacker Chad Greenway. But he rebounded to steal a win when it counted.

The game-tying drive in the closing seconds ... that’s not supposed to happen. Not against what had been through eight weeks the NFL’s top-rated scoring defense, not with no timeouts and huge chunks of the field to cover.

However, this been Stafford’s M.O. Even in years when he has been so-so and his team has been worse, Stafford has shown a knack for delivering when it matters. Two years ago, he turned in five fourth-quarter comebacks. For his career, counting Sunday, he now has 21 game-winning drives. (Pro Football Reference defines those as "an offensive scoring drive in the 4th quarter or overtime that puts the winning team ahead for the last time.")

Yes, he came up short at home against the Titans and again on the road against the Packers, Texans and—worst of all—Bears. Stafford still rescued the Lions Sunday, just as he has done several times this season.

He may not be the league MVP, but he belongs in the conversation. Because of him, Detroit is a contender in the NFC North. And Minnesota will spend another week trying to figure out what went wrong.