MINNEAPOLIS -- Motivation has not been a problem for the Minnesota Vikings this season. The Detroit Lions should have known that, but then again, this has not been a season in which the Lions have been a sharp football team.
Lions strong safety Bennie Blades made the mistake of hitting Cris Carter in the head early in the first quarter. Blades drew a 15-yard personal foul penalty, but the Vikings later drew blood.
They cut up the Lions last night, 31-14, at the Metrodome to take a firmer grip on first place in the NFC Central Division. After Blades' blow to Carter's head, the Vikings (5-1) unleashed their wide receivers on the Lions' secondary.
The result was a quick 24-0 lead from which the Lions (1-5) never recovered.
"I wouldn't say that [Blades' hit] was what got us going, but the hitwas uncalled for," Carter said. "I know he was just trying to make a play, but the ball was nowhere near me."
On the next play, quarterback Rich Gannon found AnthonCarter in the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown. The assault was on, but Gannon wasn't around for the finish.
Gannon suffered a hyper-extended knee early in the seconquarter after being hit by Lions defensive end Dan Owens. Gannon had to be helped off the field and did not return. He left the game after completing eight of 10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Backup Sean Salisbury finished the game for Gannon and engineered two scoring drives. He hit Carter for a 29-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Carter has caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games, giving him six for the season.
Gannon spent the rest of the night on the sidelines with an ice pack on the knee. His status will be re-examined today, but he will have nine days to be ready for the Oct. 25 game against Washington at the Metrodome.
"I didn't even see the guy coming," Gannon said. "I was looking downfield at where I was throwing."
Gannon has proved to be a fast healer. After suffering a chipped bone in his throwing hand Sept. 20 against Tampa Bay, he recovered in time to have a career performance the next week at Cincinnati.
However, the Vikings' medical staff does have some concern over the thumb injury. Gannon aggravated the thumb shortly before getting hit by Owens.
"It [the thumb] just got smacked on somebody's helmet," Gannon said.
Before the injury, Gannon did enough damage to inflict a season's worth of misery on the Lions, who won the NFC Central last year but might not even make the playoffs this season. The Vikings scored on their first four possessions.
Detroit is four games behind the Vikings, who have a 4-1 record against division opponents.
Vikings coach Dennis Green and Lions coach Wayne Fontes have a relationship dating back to their days at the University of Iowa. But Green was not in a sympathetic mood for his longtime friend.
"We don't need to worry about anybody but ourselves," Green said. "If we're able to keep improving each week, we'll be there [playoffs]. If we don't, we won't be there."
The Vikings took another step toward postseason play with a near-record early burst. After Gannon's scoring pass to Anthony Carter, he hit Hassan Jones for a 43-yard touchdown.
Three end-around carries by Vikings receivers on the drive set up Jones' catch and had the Lions' defense thoroughly confused.
"We wanted to soften them up a little and I think we did that," Vikings offensive coordinator Jack Burns said. "You can do that sometimes with those plays [end-around runs] when a team sits back so much in two-deep zones."
Cornerback Carl Lee sat back in the right spot in the Vikings' zone and intercepted a Rodney Peete pass moments after Jones' catch. Three plays later, Terry Allen went over from the 1 to give the Vikings a 21-0 lead.
Fuad Reveiz's 20-yard field goal made it 24-0 and suddenly Lions running back Barry Sanders was a non-factor. No matter how good a running back is, a 24-0 lead is hard to overcome on the ground.
Sanders was held to 52 yards on 16 carries. In the Lions' 31-17 win at the Silverdome, Sanders was limited to 66 yards on 26 carries.
"I felt we did a better job in the first game," Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy said. "Barry's such an unbelievable runner. He can make five people miss on a 2-yard run."
Sanders scored on an 11-yard run in the second quarter, but he was barely noticeable the rest of the night. The Lions trailed by too much to rely on him. Peete was forced to throw more, and the Vikings' defensive line took advantage, sacking him five times.
Peete, who also was intercepted twice, was limited to 13 of 23 completions for 171 yards.