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Vikings stay alive with win versus Lions

DETROIT (Dec. 10, 2006) -- Artose Pinner enjoyed the best game of his career against the team that cut him three months ago.

But he insisted it was more gratifying to help the Minnesota Vikings stay in the playoff picture.

Pinner had career highs with 125 yards rushing and three touchdowns to lift Minnesota to a 30-20 win over the Detroit Lions.

"It was more important that it gives us a chance to stay in the playoff race," he said.

Despite losing five of their previous six games and being under .500, the Vikings (6-7) still have a shot at playing in January.

"It's kind of like NCAA tournament time and we're still in it," Minnesota safety Darren Sharper said. "If we win our next three, I believe we'll definitely be in."

The Lions (2-11), meanwhile, have lost five straight and the only consolation for the hapless franchise is it can't break the record for the most losses in a six-season span. Detroit, an NFL-worst 23-70 since 2001, would fall one setback short of the 74 losses Tampa Bay had from 1983-88 if its closes the season without a win.

Offensive tackle Jeff Backus has started every game during the miserable stretch, and the past two weeks he had to congratulate former Michigan teammates: Tom Brady in New England and Steve Hutchinson of the Vikings.

"I'm jealous of those guys," Backus said. "They've been able to have success and enjoy their careers. What fun is there in losing every week?"

One home game after Miami's Joey Harrington threw three TDs in a win against Detroit, which drafted him third overall in 2002, another former Lion had a big day at Ford Field.

Pinner, among Detroit's final cuts before the season, replaced injured Chester Taylor (ribs) and played ahead of backups expected to take a larger role.

"We had to introduce ourselves," Minnesota Brad Johnson joked.

Pinner ran for TDs on Minnesota's first two drives to double his previous career high in scoring. By the middle of the second quarter, he surpassed his previous career high of 68 yards rushing set in 2004, a year after Detroit drafted him in the fourth round.

His best game this season was 29 yards rushing at San Francisco, a performance that was followed by one without a carry and three inactive games.

"I was able to touch the ball over 20 times and make plays," said Pinner, who had 29 carries -- six more than his previous career high. "That's all I ever asked for and to have the opportunity to do it here makes it that much sweeter."

Detroit had five of its six turnovers after three quarters, but trailed by just 10 because Minnesota had two turnovers of its own -- one of which was returned for a score.

"We left a lot of points out there, but the defense did a great job," Pinner said.

The Vikings seemed to put the game away early in the fourth quarter with Pinner's third TD -- matching his total from any previous season -- that put them ahead 30-13.

But the Lions stayed in the game as Kevin Jones scored on the ensuing possession to pull within 10 and they drove to the Minnesota 2 with 3 1/2 minutes left.

With a chance to make it a one-possession game with a field goal, Detroit went for it on fourth down and Jon Kitna was sacked.

"It was tough to get down there against that defense," Lions coach Rod Marinelli insisted. "We wanted to get it in, get a three and out and go from there."

Kitna was 28 of 41 for 294 yards with a TD, three interceptions and a fumble. Kitna entered the game tied for the NFL lead with 22 turnovers and added four to that woeful total, but Marinelli said he will not make a quarterback change.

"It's not all one guy," Marinelli said.

The Vikings stuck with Johnson at quarterback, instead of taking a chance on rookie Tarvaris Jackson, and he was 14 of 22 for 159 yards with an interception and a rushing TD that made it 20-0 on their third possession. Coach Brad Childress said Johnson did enough to keep his job.

Minnesota, the NFL's best team against the run, held Detroit to minus-3 yards rushing and Jones left with a left foot injury after being stopped on a second-and-goal at the 1 before Kitna was sacked late in the game.

Detroit's Roy Williams and Mike Furrey combined for 15 catches and 157 yards, but both fumbled.

Notes: Lions president Matt Millen had an informal chat before the game with a small group of reporters, but declined to comment on his job status -- with four years left on his contract -- or about anything involving the franchise he has led since 2001. ... The Vikings tied a franchise record with four rushing TDs and beat Detroit for the 10th straight time. ... Jones' foot will be examined Dec. 11. ...Detroit's starting OGs, Ross Verba (groin) and Blaine Saipaia (chest), were injured.

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