MINNEAPOLIS – Brad Johnson took over at quarterback and helped jump-start the Minnesota offense. Joey Harrington returned as Detroit’s starter to far less favorable results.

Johnson passed for 136 yards and two touchdowns in relief of the injured Daunte Culpepper, Michael Bennett rushed 18 times for 106 yards and the Vikings beat the Lions 27-14 to create a tie for second place in the punchless NFC North.

Bennett and Nate Burleson caught second-quarter scores from Johnson, sandwiched around rookie Ciatrick Fason’s first career TD on a 3-yard run.

The Vikings’ 21 points on seven offensive plays in a span of less than 4 minutes were courtesy of a fumble and an interception by Harrington deep in Detroit’s territory.

Minnesota (3-5) beat the Lions for the eighth straight time, seven under beleaguered coach Mike Tice.

Lions leading rusher Kevin Jones was sidelined by an injured right shoulder, but Detroit (3-5) had plenty of more critical problems – perhaps beginning Thursday when coach Steve Mariucci named Harrington the starter over a banged-up Jeff Garcia.

Minnesota’s success came on the strength of a revived running game that found plenty of holes through a Lions defensive line that was missing Pro Bowl tackle Shaun Rogers to a knee injury.

Starter Mewelde Moore, who sprained his right wrist in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 carries for 49 yards, watched Bennett re-establish himself as a featured back – for one afternoon, at least. This was his first 100-yard game since Dec. 7, 2003, against Seattle.

Johnson went 15-for-22 without a turnover and just one completion longer than 20 yards in relief of Culpepper, who sustained a massive season-ending injury to his right knee in last week’s loss at Carolina.

The Lions finally came to life with a nine-play, 75-yard drive late in the first half – highlighted by Vines, who beat Ralph Brown and hauled in a 40-yard pass from Harrington at the 1.

Artose Pinner plunged into the end zone on the next play to cut the lead to 24-7. Early in the third quarter, the first of two sacks by Kalimba Edwards forced a fumble by Johnson that was recovered by Shaun Cody at the Detroit 32-yard line.

The Lions picked up a first down on Fred Smoot’s illegal contact penalty on third-and-5, but Harrington was sacked by Lance Johnstone for a 9-yard loss on the next third down – bringing out Nick Harris for yet another punt.

After the fumble, though, the Vikings went three-and-out twice over the remainder of the quarter and let Detroit drive 67 yards in six plays – the last one a 23-yard touchdown pass on the first snap of the fourth quarter from Harrington to Marcus Pollard that pulled the Lions within 24-14.

But Johnstone ended their next possession with another third-down sack, and Harrington just couldn’t bring the Lions any closer. He finished 28-for-48 for 263 yards and two interceptions, plus the costly fumble in the first half.

Harrington never looked comfortable in the pocket, often failing to feel out where the rush was coming from while being steadily pressured by a revived Minnesota defense that switched back to a 4-3 scheme after three weeks using the 3-4.

AP-ES-11-06-05 1631EST


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