DETROIT (AP) — Looks like the Minnesota Vikings have a feel for desperation.
And desperation pass plays.
Kirk Cousins took a shotgun snap, rolled slightly to his right, stepped up and heaved a pass from near midfield into the end zone.
Kyle Rudolph leaped to make a go-ahead touchdown catch.
Cousins’ 44-yard Hail Mary to Rudolph as time expired in the first half put the Minnesota Vikings ahead and they beat the Detroit Lions 27-9 Sunday, moving a step closer to playing in the postseason.
“It was a big way to gain some momentum going into the half after a slow start,” Cousins said. “They were calling it a Hail Rudy after it happened.”
Minnesota famously beat New Orleans in the playoffs last January on Diggs’ game-ending, 61-yard touchdown reception to advance to the NFC championship game.
The Vikings could have clinched a spot in the playoffs with a win and losses by Washington and Philadelphia this weekend. The Redskins lost to Tennessee on Saturday, and shortly after Minnesota walked into its locker room at Ford Field, the Eagles beat Houston on a game-ending field goal.
Minnesota (8-6-1) can still earn a spot in the postseason by closing the regular season with a win against NFC North champion Chicago at home, or by having wild-card hopefuls lose in Week 17.
“We don’t want to leave it up to anyone else,” Rudolph said.
The Vikings overcame an awful start offensively, scoring two touchdowns on Cousins’ passes over the last 1:32 of the second quarter, and relied on their defense all afternoon against Detroit.
Minnesota had almost as many punts (4) as yards (5) before Cousins led an eight-play, 69-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs late in the first half. On the Vikings’ next possession after calling timeout with 2 seconds left in the second quarter against a three-man rush, Cousins capped a 70-yard drive with his Hail Mary to Rudolph, who didn’t have much traffic in front of him,.
“I didn’t have to move one step off of my spot. I was able to jump,” said the 6-foot-6 Rudolph, who was a highly touted high school basketball player in Cincinnati. “I joked earlier I had a lot of rebounds in high school basketball and at that point, it turns into another rebound, so maybe see if I can get that added to my career total.”
In the same end zone three years ago, Aaron Rodgers connected with Richard Rodgers on a winning desperation pass to lift the Packers to a win over Detroit to help them make a push to get into the postseason.
Cousins finished 21 of 28 for 253 yards with three touchdowns, matching his career high with 29 set in 2015 with the Redskins. Rudolph had a career-high 122 yards receiving, matched a career high with two touchdown receptions, and had a season-high nine receptions.
The Lions (5-10) wasted opportunities to have a comfortable cushion in the first half because their offense stalled repeatedly. They had to settle for three field goals and a 9-0 lead, and then they had to deal with a 14-9 deficit after the Hail Mary.
“When those things happen, certainly they have a little bit of a toll on you,” coach Matt Patricia acknowledged.
Detroit has dropped four of five and seven of nine since reaching .500 in late October, falling apart in Patricia’s first season as a head coach after the franchise fired coach Jim Caldwell with a 36-28 record over four seasons.
The playing-for-pride Lions got off to a strong start defensively against the playoff-hopeful Vikings, holding them without a first down until there were three-plus minutes left in the first half.
With the ball, though, Detroit could not to take advantage of favorable field position against a stingy defense. The Lions were relegated to Matt Prater kicking one field goal in the first quarter and two in the second.
The Vikings opened the second half with a field goal for a 17-9 lead that looked like it would be enough against a team that failed to score a touchdown against them in two games this season. Minnesota sent a lot of fans out of Ford Field early in the second half when Cousins threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Rudolph to go ahead by 15 points.
Matthew Stafford was 18 of 32 for 116 yards and was replaced with 4:10 left by Matt Cassel, who was welcomed by cheers before the Lions were called for a false start prior to his first snap.
“It’s frustrating that that’s the way the game went,” said Stafford, who is playing through a back injury. “Coach makes those decisions. Always want to be out there, understand where he’s coming from with it. He knows what I’m dealing with and going through. As far as fans’ reaction, it doesn’t make any difference.”
Vikings: CB Marcus Sherels left with a foot injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. CB Xavier Rhodes (groin) limped off the field in the fourth quarter. FB C.J. Ham (elbow) had an elbow injury.
Lions: TE Luke Willson (concussion), DT A’Shawn Robinson (knee), DeShawn Shead (knee) were hurt during the game.
Vikings: Host the Bears on Sunday.
“It’s going to be like a playoff game,” Rudolph said.
Lions: Close the season at Green Bay on Sunday.