Penalty issues bite Vikings at bad time

DETROIT -- For as good as the Minnesota Vikings were about not getting penalized last season, the two infractions that burned them the most during their 2013 season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions were two that they struggled with quite a bit last season.

They were twice on the verge of stopping the Detroit Lions in the fourth quarter when penalties from defensive tackle Letroy Guion and cornerback Xavier Rhodes sustained Detroit's drive and set up a Matthew Stafford touchdown pass that put the game out of reach.

Stafford threw incomplete on third-and-18, missing Joseph Fauria while Everson Griffen was bearing down on him, when Guion came in late and struck Stafford's helmet with his hands. The hit seemed to do little damage, but in today's NFL, a shot to the quarterback's head is almost always going to merit a penalty, and Guion's hit kept the Lions' drive alive.

And later in the drive, Rhodes continued his jam of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson a little too long, earning a pass-interference penalty on a third-and-5 from the Vikings' 27, even though Johnson appeared to be out of bounds when the flag was thrown. Rhodes said he didn't think the pass was catchable, but admitted he shouldn't have given the officials a reason to throw the flag in the first place.

Both penalties were indicative of a problem the Vikings had last year. They were flagged for six roughing-the-passer penalties in 2012, which ranked ninth-worst in the league and led to 51 yards and four first downs for opponents (two of the penalties were declined). And their 178 yards in pass interference penalties were the seventh-most in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The latter figure could be high again this year, with the Vikings planning to use Rhodes in plenty of press coverage. He wasn't afraid to play physical with the 6-foot-5 Johnson on Sunday, but the All-Pro receiver was able to fight back, and Rhodes will have to learn how to walk the fine line between jamming receivers and engaging them so long that referees throw their flags -- and begin to put the rookie on their figurative watch lists.

Had the Vikings not kept the Lions' last touchdown drive alive on Sunday, they might have had a chance to get the ball back and tie or win the game. Instead, they were down 10 when their offense got back on the field with just over four minutes to go.

"That's something we'll have to learn from," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Our guys are trying to be aggressive. Those were costly. We finished with five for the game, but those two were definitely costly."