"In your mind you don't want to be the team to lose to a winless team this late in the year," Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said Sunday after the Vikings beat the Lions 20-16. "That's not the part of history that any of us in here want to be a part of."
The Lions seem destined to be the NFL's first 0-16 team.
Tarvaris Jackson threw a go-ahead touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, playing for the injured Gus Frerotte, and the NFC North-leading Vikings (8-5) held on for the victory.
Detroit (0-13) had chances to win, just as it did in a two-point loss at Minnesota, but couldn't make enough plays, just as it has failed to do throughout a miserable season.
"It's another loss and it's totally unacceptable," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said.
The Lions finish at Indianapolis, against New Orleans and at Green Bay.
"They don't want to go down in the Hall of Fame," Adrian Peterson said after running for 102 yards. "Whoever is facing them these last three games better be prepared."
Lions coach Rod Marinelli refused to concede his team blew its best opportunity to win a game.
"I'm looking forward to this week," he insisted. "We're playing a heck of a team, but we think we've got a good chance."
The Lions are the fourth team to start 0-13 or worse since 1976, when Tampa Bay infamously finished 0-14 as an expansion team.
However, the 2007 Dolphins (0-13), 1986 Colts (0-13) and 1980 Saints (0-14) avoided the dubious distinction of being the first team to finish winless since the league lengthened the regular season in 1978.
"We've got something to play for," kicker Jason Hanson said.
The Vikings had defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams on the field after the NFL Players Association helped to at least delay their suspensions for testing positive in training camp for a banned diuretic that can be used to mask steroids.
"We weren't worried about it," Kevin Williams said. "I'm playing football until I'm told otherwise."
The run-stuffing linemen held Kevin Smith to 63 yards and freed up Allen to get two sacks, giving him 12 1/2 this season to break a single-season record for the Vikings.
They stuffed Culpepper on a fourth-and-1 at their 6 late in the first half.
"It definitely was a wall: Kevin and Pat Williams," Culpepper said.
Minnesota lost Gus Frerotte after he injured his lower back during a first half in which he threw two interceptions.
Jackson, who was replaced by Frerotte after an 0-2 start, was 8-of-10 for 105 yards with a TD.
"I can't say enough about Tarvaris coming into the game with limited reps," coach Brad Childress said.
Culpepper was 14-of-24 for 220 yards against his old team. He reminded fans of his glory years with Randy Moss, perfectly heaving a pass to Calvin Johnson for a 70-yard TD that gave Detroit a 13-10 lead in the third period.