The Detroit Lions knew exactly what the Minnesota Vikings were going to do on Sunday. They still had no answer for Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings' remarkable comeback kid rushed for 171 yards and a touchdown and Calvin Johnson had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter in the Lions' 34-24 loss to the Vikings.
The Vikings were missing star receiver Percy Harvin with a sprained left ankle, meaning the Lions could load up against Peterson even more than they normally do. They held him in check for the first half, but Peterson rolled up 134 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown run that essentially put the game away, in the final two quarters.
"We knew our game plan was to limit him, limit his production, not allow any breakout runs," Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "But it's easier said than done. He's a dynamic player. Probably the best back in the league right now, and we just didn't get it done."
The Lions (4-5) certainly aren't alone. Peterson has rushed for 629 yards in the last four games and 1,128 already this season, looking nothing like a player who shredded two ligaments in his left knee just over 10 months ago.
"They have the best running back in the league and we need to find a way to stop him," Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "We knew he was going to get the ball. He saw some creases and when he sees a crease, he goes."
Johnson had 12 catches for 207 yards and a touchdown in another gritty effort on a balky left knee. But his fumble in Detroit territory midway through a wild fourth quarter ended the Lions' mounting offensive momentum.
Matthew Stafford completed 28 of 42 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but the Lions offense didn't really get rolling until it was too late.
Once again, a sluggish first half had the Lions playing catch-up all game. They managed just 115 yards and went 0 for 6 on third downs in the first half, falling behind 13-3 at halftime thanks to a TD pass from Ponder to rookie Jarius Wright and two field goals by Blair Walsh.
Stafford hit Brandon Pettigrew for a touchdown in the third quarter to make it 16-10, and the Lions were still very much in the game after Titus Young's 1-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter made it 24-17.
Peterson responded by dashing off right tackle for a 61-yard score, then Johnson fumbled a reception to give the Vikings the ball at the Detroit 45. One more field goal from Walsh made it 34-17 and put the game out of reach.
"That was tough, especially in that situation of the game," Johnson said of the fumble. "It hurt, especially because I hate turning the ball over."
The Lions had won three out of four after a 1-3 start to creep back into the playoff picture. After a loss that halted their momentum, they're left seeking comfort in three straight homes games that are coming up, even if they are against heavyweights Green Bay and Houston and improving Indianapolis.
"It is what it is. We're 4-5," coach Jim Schwartz said. "That's what our record is. We've got three games at home. We start this week against Green Bay. It doesn't matter what's happened in the past. We have stuff in front of us, but we have to play better than this."
Struggling Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns against the porous Lions secondary, which was torched by Wright for 54 yards on Minnesota's fifth play of the game to set up the first score.
Mikel Leshoure managed just 43 yards rushing on 13 carries and Ndamukong Suh had another very quiet day with just one tackle for the Lions, who are left licking more wounds than one.
Defensive end Cliff Avril left the game with a concussion and defensive back Chris Houston suffered an ankle injury. Houston said he would be fine, but wasn't happy because he felt an offensive lineman fell on his ankle on purpose. Still, he said falling to 0-3 in the NFC North was much more painful than the ankle was.
"It hurts bad. We need to win all division games," Houston said. "Our thoughts of the playoffs are still kind of slim but if we come back and win these three home games, we still have a shot."
NOTES: Several Lions said after the game they took exception to Calvin Johnson being hit in the head down the field. Schwartz said it happened twice, and LB Jasper Brinkley was flagged for one unnecessary roughness penalty. "That's part of the game they're trying to get rid of, which I think is a good thing," Stafford said. "Calvin's a tough guy and he made some great plays for us and obviously had a great game. There's not a whole lot of place for that in this league." ... Stafford's three TD passes give him 71 for his career in 38 games. He is the third quarterback in league history to reach that milestone in fewer than 40 games, joining Dan Marino and Kurt Warner. ... Stafford's TD pass to Johnson in the fourth quarter was just the first scoring pass for the prolific duo this season. Johnson's other TD came from Shaun Hill.