PAUL SANCYA / AP Enlarge
DETROIT - The Minnesota Vikings didn't talk much about avoiding the embarrassment of losing to Detroit.
They didn't have to.
"In your mind you don't want to be the team to lose to a winless team this late in the year," Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said yesterday after the Vikings beat the Lions 20-16. "That's not the part of history that any of us in here want to be a part of."
The Lions seem destined to be the NFL's first 0-16 team.
Tarvaris Jackson threw a go-ahead touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, playing for the injured Gus Frerotte, and the NFC North-leading Vikings (8-5) held on for the victory.
Detroit (0-13) had chances to win, just as it did in a two-point loss at Minnesota, but couldn't make enough plays, just as it has failed to do throughout a miserable season.
"It's another loss and it's totally unacceptable," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said.
The Lions finish at Indianapolis, against New Orleans and at Green Bay.
"They don't want to go down in the Hall of Fame," Adrian Peterson said after running for 102 yards. "Whoever is facing them these last three games better be prepared."
Lions coach Rod Marinelli refused to concede his team blew its best opportunity to win a game.
"I'm looking forward to this week," he insisted. "We're playing a heck of a team but we think we've got a good chance."
The Lions are the fourth team to start 0-13 or worse since 1976, when Tampa Bay infamously finished 0-14 as an expansion team.
However, the 2007 Dolphins (0-13), 1986 Colts (0-13) and 1980 Saints (0-14) avoided the dubious distinction of being the first team to finish winless since the league lengthened the regular season in 1978.
"We've got something to play for," kicker Jason Hanson said.
The Vikings had defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams on the field after the NFL Players Association helped to at least delay their suspensions for testing positive in training camp for a banned diuretic that can be used to mask steroids.
"We weren't worried about it," Kevin Williams said. "I'm playing football until I'm told otherwise."
The run-stuffing linemen held Kevin Smith to 63 yards and freed up Allen to get two sacks, giving him 12 1/2 this season to break a single-season record for the Vikings.
They stuffed Culpepper on a fourth-and-1 at their 6 late in the first half.
"It definitely was a wall: Kevin and Pat Williams," Culpepper said.
Minnesota lost Gus Frerotte after he injured his lower back during a first half in which he threw two interceptions.
Jackson, who was replaced by Frerotte after an 0-2 start, was 8-of-10 for 105 yards with a TD.
"I can't say enough about Tarvaris coming into the game with limited reps," coach Brad Childress said.
Culpepper was 14-of-24 for 220 yards against his old team. He reminded fans of his glory years with Randy Moss, perfectly heaving a pass to Calvin Johnson for a 70-yard TD that gave Detroit a 13-10 lead in the third period.
Jackson helped the Vikings score two go-ahead TDs in the second half.
His 11-yard pass to Visanthe Shiancoe put Minnesota ahead 17-13 early in the fourth quarter.
The Lions seemed to be in position to get the lead back, but a third-down completion to Johnson at the 8 was overturned by replay.
"That was huge," Culpepper said. "I thought he caught it. It was probably the biggest play of the game."
Detroit settled for a field goal on fourth-and-11 from the 21.
The Vikings opened the ensuing drive with Peterson's 25-yard run. Jackson converted a third down by connecting with Bobby Wade, and Minnesota moved into field-goal range with a 14-yard pass to former Toledo player Chester Taylor.
Ryan Longwell capped the drive with a 50-yard kick.
Detroit's last hope was dashed when Ray Edwards stripped the ball from Culpepper as he tried to heave it downfield and he left with a shoulder injury.
Drew Henson came in for the final play and was sacked in a fitting end to loss No. 13.
Early on, it looked like Detroit might beat the Vikings just as it did with an 0-12 record in 2001.
But the Lions stalled at the Minnesota 4 and 5 on their first two drives and turned the ball over on the next two, failing to convert fourth downs.
"If we got touchdowns, it probably would've been a different game," Culpepper said.
Notes: The Lions have lost 20 of 21 games and are 31-94 since 2001, falling to the NFL's worst losing percentage (.248) over an eight-season stretch since 1950 according to STATS. Minnesota has won 13 of 14 in the series, dating back to its loss to the 0-12 Lions. Lions FB Moran Norris was ejected for swiping at LB Napoleon Harris one play after OT Gosder Cherilus lunged from his knees to hit Allen on his left knee.42.33168 -83.04792