Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
DETROIT -- A group of Minnesota coaches and players gathered around Tarvaris Jackson in the locker room late Sunday afternoon. Jackson was grinning from ear to ear, accepting congratulations and slaps on the back.
Someone passed out a final stat sheet.
"One-forty-three!" exclaimed offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
No, that figure wasn't the number of interceptions Jackson threw Sunday. He didn't take 143 sacks or make 143 poor decisions or throw a pass 143 feet over someone's head.
Actually, 143.8 was Jackson's passer rating in Minnesota's 20-16 victory at Ford Field. After replacing an injured Gus Frerotte, Jackson led the Vikings to 17 second-half points. His 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe proved to be the game winner, an important milestone for a once-banished player who might be asked to quarterback his team to the playoffs.
"[Coaches] have been telling me, 'I guarantee you'll be back in there at some point,'" Jackson said. "That's just how the NFL is. And today it actually happened. I'm just glad we got a win out of it."
Coaches often motivate a disappointed backup with similar rhetoric, but in the Vikings' case it was a very reasonable scenario. Frerotte, 37, has been knocked from four of the 11 games he has started since taking over in Week 3. Sunday, Frerotte never returned after a back contusion forced him to leave the field on a cart in the second quarter.
Coach Brad Childress refused to speculate on Frerotte's condition or the likely duration of his absence. But based on how slowly Frerotte was moving through the locker room, it seems quite possible Jackson could resume his role as the Vikings' starter next Sunday at Arizona.
"[Frerotte] has a back contusion and is very sore right now," Childress said. "So we're trying to settle him down and make him comfortable. Can't say enough about Tarvaris coming into the game and how he played. With limited reps, that's what happens at that position, but I thought he did a great job coming in and moving the football around. Converting third downs, directing the show. He knew exactly what he was doing."
That's easier said than done for a player who has received few practice reps this season while Frerotte established a comfort level for the offense. There have been whispers that Jackson was deeply hurt by Childress' quick hook in September, but teammates said Sunday they appreciated Jackson's approach.
"The best word to put on it is that he's been professional," receiver Bobby Wade said. "Extremely professional about not liking the situation, about having a lot of emotions about the situation, but understanding that's it's a business. He has handled it perfectly, if you ask me."
It's only fair to point out Jackson was playing against a Lions defense that hasn't stopped many teams this season. (Or is it any? We'll check and get back to you). But for his part, Jackson displayed none of the tentativeness that plagued his two early-season starts, completing 8 of 10 passes for 108 yards with the help of some friendly play calling from Bevell.
Bevell re-employed the Vikings' bootleg passing game as soon as Jackson got on the field, hoping to maximize the quarterback's mobility against a Lions defense that clearly forgot that Jackson did nothing but roll out earlier this season. Bevell, in fact, went to a version of the bootleg in an ideal situation with the Vikings trailing 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.
On second-and-eight from the Lions' 11-yard line, Jackson faked a handoff to tailback Adrian Peterson and rolled toward the right sideline. Safety Dwight Smith froze, unsure whether to chase Jackson or follow Shiancoe into the flat.
Jackson fired a perfectly-timed pass, and Shiancoe dove into the end zone to give the Vikings a 13-10 lead.
"[Jackson] just brings a different dynamic to the position," Bevell said. "Every guy has skills and abilities, and him being on the move is one of the things he does well."
It's one thing to complete eight of 10 passes against the Lions. But three months after getting benched, can Jackson steer a team to the playoffs? Depending on Frerotte's progress, the Vikings might not have an alternative.
"Since the beginning," Jackson said, "I was trying to use [the benching] as motivation to work. It's been a difficult situation throughout the whole time. ... It's been different, and it's been hard. But I can't sit here and dwell on it now. It's over. I can't do anything about the past. I just have to use it to get better."
Some other random thoughts, observations and notes from Sunday's game:
Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper produced easily his best performance since joining the team, completing 14 of 24 passes for 220 yards. His 70-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson was perfectly placed down the left sideline, and Culpepper displayed some lively legs on a couple of scrambles.
But as luck would have it, Culpepper injured his throwing shoulder on the penultimate play of the game and is scheduled for an MRI on Monday. "I'll have to see how it feels [Monday]," Culpepper said.
The Lions have lost to the Vikings twice by a total of six points. Nevertheless, they are three games away from 0-16. "I know one thing about us," tailback Kevin Smith said. "We never stop working. We may be the laughingstock or whatever, but we don't work that way. We work hard. Hopefully we can keep going no matter what happens."
Sunday marked the eighth game this season in which the Lions lost a lead.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen wouldn't directly criticize Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus for a low block that briefly forced him from the game in the second quarter. Allen had to be restrained from going after Cherilus but said: "I was a little perturbed. You don't need to hit me in the knee to motivate me. I do that myself. You just take care of those things on the field." Allen was credited with two sacks to push his season total to 12.5.
Childress offered a preview on his mindset as the team faces another week of questions about the status of
defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. "This game and this week was never going to be about two guys that weren't going to play," Childress said. "And it wasn't going to be about two guys that were going to replace those two guys that weren't going to play. It's always been about our 53-man team. It's always been about that. It was just important that we've sold that all the way along. The 'Us, We, Team,' thing we've done since day one of training camp."