DETROIT — Darius Slay dropped into coverage as if he was going to cover a deep route and pounced on an opportunity to help the Lions come back to win another game.
Slay intercepted Sam Bradford’s pass from the left hash across the field to help send the Lions into sole possession of first place in the NFC North.
Slay returned the interception 13 yards with 30 seconds left to set up Matt Prater’s 40-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Lions to a 16-13 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday.
Minnesota could have stuck with the conservative approach it took on offense for much of the game and played for overtime on its last drive, but coach Mike Zimmer allowed Bradford to pass and Slay made him regret it.
“I knew they were going to throw,” Slay said. “They didn’t want overtime. They know what happened last time.”
Earlier this month, Prater made a game-tying 58-yard field goal at the end of regulation at Minnesota and the Lions won in overtime.
Slay, a standout cornerback, who calls himself “Big Play Slay,” fooled Bradford by coming up and stepping in front of Adam Thielen to pick off the pass.
“I wish I could have seen him fall off the outside route and come back in,” Bradford said.
The Lions (7-4) have won six of seven, including two against Minnesota this month and four of the wins have come on Prater’s field goals, despite trailing in the fourth quarter of every game this season.
Slay sealed the first victory during the successful stretch with an interception late in the game on Oct. 9 against Philadelphia.
“He’s as good as they come in those situations,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s kind of got a knack for it. He’s a bit of a riverboat gambler.”
Detroit extended its NFL record of having its first 11 games decided by seven or fewer points.
“They come from behind every week, so when we took the lead in the fourth quarter, we knew the game wasn’t over,” Minnesota tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We had to keep playing, but we didn’t make enough plays.”
The Vikings (6-5) have lost five of six, plummeting out of first place after surging to the top of the division by winning their first five games.
Losing the lead(s)
Forbath put the Vikings ahead for the first time, giving them a 13-10 lead early in the fourth on a 28-yard field goal after Cordarrelle Patterson gained 22 yards on a reverse .
The Lions moved a step closer toward winning a division title for the first time since 1993 by breaking a tie atop the NFC North with Minnesota.
If both teams finish the regular season tied atop the division, Detroit would win the tiebreaker.
“If they were handing out trophies the day after this win, I’d feel a little bit different,” Caldwell said. “It means nothing right now, right? We haven’t done anything.”
Minnesota didn’t convert a third down until Bradford connected with Patterson late in the third quarter and finished 2 of 10 on third down.
“We weren’t good enough on third downs offensively,” Zimmer said. “We can’t continue to shoot ourselves in the foot with some of those penalties and negative plays.”
Vikings: A banged-up offensive line took a hit in the first half when center Joe Berger was evaluated for a concussion, and wasn’t cleared to return. The line had yet another setback midway through the fourth when tackle Jeremiah Sirles had to be helped off the field.
“Every time we get some chemistry going on the line, we lose someone else,” Rudolph said.
Minnesota started the game without receiver Stefon Diggs (knee), cornerback Terence Newman (neck) and punt returner Marcus Sherels (rib, ankle).
Lions: Linebacker DeAndre Levy was inactive, but appears to be closer to coming back from a knee injury that has kept him out since Week 1.
Vikings: In a week, Minnesota will host the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.
Lions: Detroit gets an extended break before playing Dec. 4 at New Orleans.