DETROIT (AP) — Case Keenum stood in the pocket to take a hit, dipped his right shoulder to slip out of a sack and shuffled his feet in the pocket to give his receivers more time to get open.
Looking like a savvy winner, instead of a journeyman, he picked apart Detroit’s defense with his arm and made plays with his legs to help the Minnesota Vikings beat the Lions 30-23 Thursday.
Keenum threw for two touchdowns and ran for a score in the first half to give the Vikings a double-digit lead and they went on to win a seventh straight game.
They took a huge step toward winning the NFC North by taking a three-game lead over the second-place Lions.
Keenum, undrafted out of Houston in 2012, is suddenly 7-2 this season after going 9-15 with the Houston Texas and the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams.
“I want to be great and I have confidence in myself that I can be great,” he said.
The Vikings signed him to be a backup and he has made the most of his opportunities with Sam Bradford injured and Teddy Bridgewater recovering from a knee injury.
Keenum was 21 of 30 for 282 yards with both TD passes going to Kyle Rudolph, giving the Vikings a 20-3 lead late in the second quarter.
“Case is amazing because he does so many small things to pick up first downs and keep drives alive,” Rudolph said.
“Every time he finds a way to convert another third down, it means we’ve got three more plays to attack the defense. With the number of big-play guys we’ve got now, we can do a lot of damage with those three plays.”
Detroit (6-5) made mistakes in every phase of the game and Minnesota took advantage. Keenum’s 1-yard pass to Rudolph was made a little easier because the Lions had just 10 defenders on the field.
And, Keenum’s 9-yard run came after Matthew Stafford was charged with a fumble while trying to hand off to Ameer Abdullah.
Instead of winning to pull within a game of Minnesota and having a potential tiebreaker, the Lions’ loss hurts their chances of making a second straight postseason appearance.
“Don’t count us out just yet,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “We’ve got a lot of football yet to play.”
The Lions rallied to pull within four points early in the fourth quarter on Stafford’s second TD pass to Marvin Jones, who leaped to beat two defensive backs for the 43-yard score as his quarterback was on the turf with an injured right ankle.
Xavier Rhodes sidetracked Detroit’s comeback hopes with an interception at the Detroit 37 late in the game.
Detroit’s Darius Slay blocked a field goal with 1:15 left and teammate Nevin Lawson recovered the ball and returned it 77 yards for an apparent TD, but it was negated by Slay being offside and that quieted a roaring crowd.
BY THE NUMBERS
Latavius Murray had 84 yards rushing and a 2-yard score, giving the Vikings a 27-10 lead early in the third quarter.
Minnesota’s Adam Thielen had eight receptions for 89 yards and deflected credit to his quarterback.
“Case Keenum is one tough human being,” he said. “When he’s hanging in there — giving you time to get open — you feel like you’re letting him down if you can’t do it. He’s willing to get crushed to make a play, and that makes us want to come though on our end.”
Everson Griffen had two sacks, tying his career high with 12 on the season, for the Vikings.
Stafford struggled even before he was hurt late in the game, missing open receivers, and finished 20 of 35 for 250 yards with two TDs and an interception on fourth down with just under three minutes left. Jones had six catches for 109 yards and two TDs. The Lions were held to a total of 53 yards rushing.
Vikings: CB Trae Waynes left the game with an injured right shoulder, but was able to return. RT Mike Remmers was inactive with a concussion and Rashod Hill replaced him.
Lions: Stafford, with a lot of tape covering his right cleat, stayed in the game after hurting his right ankle on his second touchdown when DT Tom Johnson fell on him. S Tavon Wilson (shoulder) and C Travis Swanson (knee) left the game in the third quarter with injuries.
Vikings: Play Dec. 3 at Atlanta.
Lions: Travel Dec. 3 to Baltimore.