Lions’ Collapse Made Vikings’ past Blunders Look Pedestrian, by the Numbers

Lions Lost
A fan reacts to a missed play leading to a punt during the Detroit Lions NFC Championship watch party at Ford Field in Detroit on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. © Kimberly P. Mitchell / USA TODAY NETWORK.

The Detroit Lions were about an hour and a half from the Promised Land.

The Minnesota Vikings’ rival had reached an NFC Championship game just once before — about 30 years ago, losing to the Washington Commanders in 1991. Fast forward to 2023, and the Lions had their chance to, alas, visit the Super Bowl and proceeded to melt down.

Lions’ Collapse Made Vikings’ past Blunders Look Pedestrian, by the Numbers

Detroit was up 24-7 over the San Francisco 49ers, a team favored by a touchdown entering the matchup. The Fox telecast repeatedly panned to raucous fans gathered at Ford Field for a watch party, a conglomeration of hungry loyalists excited to see Detroit finally dispel decades of futility.

Collapse Made Vikings
Detroit Lions fans chant “Let’s Go Lions!” as they wait to enter the concourse for the NFC championship game against San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

But then the 49ers rallied, erased the Lions’ 24-7 lead in about 30 minutes of real-life time, took the lead, and completed the most significant comeback in the history of the NFC Championship. And in a mind-bending turn of events, even the Vikings had never collapsed that grossly on a grander stage.

Indeed, Minnesota is no stranger to NFC title game gaffes — see: 1998 and 2009 — but losing a 17-point lead at halftime and into the 3rd Quarter was history in the making and the bad kind for Detroit. The Lions became the first team in NFL history to lose a conference championship game when leading by 17+ points at halftime. Before Sunday, all other teams were 21-0 when holding such a lead at the half.

Lions wide receiver Josh Reynolds makes a catch against 49ers safety Ji’Ayir Brown during the second half of the Lions’ 34-31 loss in the NFC championship game in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

It was a historic meltdown by the Lions. On their biggest stage ever — outscored 27-0 in less than an hour.

Before Sunday’s atrocity, the Lions were 57-1-1 when leading by 17+ points at halftime in the Super Bowl era (regular season and postseason). The only loss occurred in 2015 versus Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, also known as The Hail Mary game, with Rodgers connecting with Richard Rodgers to chip off Detroit that season. In that vein, Sunday’s collapse was somewhat new for Detroit.

Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown walks off the field after the Lions’ 34-31 loss in the NFC championship game in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Meanwhile, the Lions joined this nefarious company as the only teams in the history of the NFL playoffs to lose a 17+ point lead at halftime:

  • 2023 Lions
  • 2022 Chargers
  • 2017 Chiefs
  • 2013 Chiefs
  • 2016 Falcons
  • 1992 Oilers

If you’re curious about the Vikings losing 17+ halftime leads, well, that’s happened four times, none of which were playoff games:

  • 1994 | Week 11 = at NE (L, 26-20)
  • 1995 | Week 17 = at CIN (L, 27-24)
  • 2011 | Week 2 = vs. TB (L, 24-20)
  • 2011 | Week 3 = vs. DET (L, 26-23)

The Vikings, indeed, aren’t very successful in the postseason, generally speaking, but they’ve never lost a game when leading by more than 7 points at halftime in the postseason. Minnesota is 11-0 in such games throughout franchise history.

Rival Named as Possible
Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, somewhat of a testament to the 49ers, San Francisco has defeated the Packers five consecutive times in the postseason, the Vikings four times in a row, Chicago three, and now Detroit twice consecutively.

Overall, in the Super Bowl era, teams leading by 17+ at halftime win about 97% of the time. At the worst possible juncture, the Lions joined the awful 3%.


Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.

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