Joe Webb faked a pass before moving slightly to his left, trying to cap an improbable comeback with yet another scramble.
Detroit's DeAndre Levy was close enough to reach out and grab Webb. Just before Levy's hand tugged the quarterback's facemask, the ball popped free, and Minnesota's rally came to a sudden end.
"I can't remember it really. I had so many things running through my head, I was just trying to make a play," Webb said. "I can't take that play back. The only thing I can do is learn from it."
The Vikings would have loved one more snap at the end of their wild 34-28 loss to the Lions on Sunday — and they seemed to have a case when replays showed Levy pulling on Webb's facemask on the final play. But no penalty was called, and Webb's terrific fourth quarter went for naught.
Trailing 31-14 in the third, Webb replaced starting quarterback Christian Ponder. He ran for a 65-yard touchdown and threw a 2-yard scoring pass to Toby Gerhart to pull the Vikings (2-11) back within six. Then Minnesota drove all the way to the Detroit 1 with 9 seconds left.
"It's a play of immediacy. He has a choice — either throw the stop-fade or throw the fade," coach Leslie Frazier said. "If not, throw it out of bounds and still have a chance."
Webb wasn't able to do any of that because of Levy's pressure. After the ball popped free, linebacker Stephen Tulloch batted it toward midfield. Webb raced back to try to pick it up, but he wasn't able to hold on, and Detroit's Cliff Avril eventually recovered all the way back in Minnesota territory.
Frazier said he hadn't seen a replay of the facemask yet, but had heard about it.
"People have told me that they grabbed Joe's facemask, and that was one of the reasons he wasn't able to get his head up to make the throw," he said.
Levy wasn't too worried about whether he'd gotten away with a penalty.
"We get a lot of calls called against us," Levy said. "So, they owed us one if I did."
Webb's performance was the only reason the Vikings were even in a position to win after falling way behind early on. Ponder threw three interceptions, and his fumble on Minnesota's first offensive snap was recovered by Tulloch in the end zone for a 7-0 Detroit lead.
It was 28-7 after Ponder's interception was returned 30 yards for a touchdown by Alphonso Smith early in the second quarter. When Ponder threw another interception on the first drive of the second half, Frazier had seen enough and made the switch.
"I gave them 17 points in the first half," said Ponder, who had been questionable for the game because of a hip pointer. "I think everyone wants to play well. No one wants to be benched. I wasn't playing well enough. I was hurting the team more than I was helping the team. I was just excited to see Joe go out there and bring us back — and one play from winning the ballgame."
Frazier indicated the change wasn't permanent.
"If Christian's healthy, he's our No. 1 quarterback," he said.
The Vikings were without running back Adrian Peterson for a third straight game because of a sprained left ankle. They still outgained the Lions 425-280, but they were undone by their six turnovers.
It was Minnesota's fifth straight loss.
The Lions (8-5), seeking to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season, were in a precarious spot coming in after losing five of seven.
They looked as though they were going to win easily, leading by 21 twice in the first half, but Webb made it interesting when he replaced Ponder in the third quarter after the rookie's fourth turnover.
NOTES: Detroit's Matthew Stafford was 20 of 29 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. ... Ponder was 11 of 21 for 115 yards and two touchdowns. ... Webb ran for 109 yards and was 12 of 23 for another 84. ... Minnesota's Percy Harvin had a career-high 10 receptions for 109 yards and a TD. ... Vikings DE Jared Allen had three sacks for the second time against Detroit this season, putting him at 100½ sacks over his eight-year career.