Cris Carter took his place in NFL history.
The Minnesota Vikings gained a playoff spot.
The two go hand-in-hand, because the Vikings ultimately needed the 1,000th catch of Carter’s career, a 4-yard touchdown reception, to beat the Detroit Lions 24-17 on Thursday night.
“As I watched the sign hit 990 ... 1,000, it was almost like I was watching someone else’s life,” Carter said. “It’s hard to believe it was me.”
Central Division Title
The Vikings also needed Robert Smith’s 43-yard touchdown run with 3:04 remaining that gave them a 24-10 lead. Smith’s second TD of the game came on the first play after the Vikings stopped the Lions on fourth-and-10 at the 50.
Smith rushed for more than 100 yards for the fifth consecutive game, finishing with 117 yards on 17 carries.
The Vikings (11-2) will wrap up the Central Division title Sunday if Dallas beats Tampa Bay.
“It’s the greatest accomplishment I have ever had, and the most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced,” Carter said. “It’s unbelievable ... unbelievable. It’s a tremendous honor, but to polish it off would be a Super Bowl championship.”
Carter, who finished with seven receptions for 45 yards, needed five receptions to become the second player in NFL history with 1,000 catches. Jerry Rice has 1,259. Carter’s 121 TD catches also ranks second to Rice.
Carter caught his fourth pass at the Lions’ 4 on the final play of the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, he beat safety Kywin Supernaw in the end zone and caught a 4-yard pass from Daunte Culpepper to make it 14-0.
“He knows the game of football and understands coverages,” Supernaw said of Carter. “He’s out there calling our coverages when we’re lining up. It was a perfectly thrown ball and perfect timing. He outjumped me for it and caught it.”
Batch Out With Injury
The teams traded field goals near the end of the first half, with the Lions’ Jason Hanson hitting a 52-yarder with 1:12 remaining and the Vikings’ Gary Anderson kicking a 40-yarder with four seconds left.
The Vikings remained in control until Lions linebacker Allen Aldridge intercepted a pass at the Minnesota 9. James Stewart scored on a 3-yard run, cutting the Vikings’ lead to 17-10.
The Lions (8-5) faced fourth-and-10 from the 50 on their final drive, but Stoney Case was sacked by Talance Sawyer. On the next play, Smith scored on the 43-yard TD.
The Vikings needed Smith’s touchdown, because Case completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Larry Foster with 13 seconds remaining. Foster caught eight passes for 106 yards.
The Lions played the final three quarters without quarterback Charlie Batch, who re-aggravated a rib injury late in the first quarter. He was sent to the sidelines three times with the injury in a Nov. 23 game against New England and returned the two times he was needed. This time, he could not return.
“I thought [Batch] would be OK, I really did,” Lions coach Gary Moeller said. “I felt that all week. But he just didn’t have the velocity on the ball.”
Westbrook Injures Achilles
Case finished the game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 230 yards and rushing for 62 yards on six carries.
The Lions also lost cornerback Bryant Westbrook for the season because of a torn left Achilles’ tendon that Moeller said will require surgery.
The Vikings’ first touchdown was set up by Troy Walters’ 63-yard punt return.
The Lions attempted to keep the punt by John Jett from going into the end zone, but the ball was batted into Walters’ arms. With five Lions already behind him, Walters scooted upfield to the Detroit 34.
The Vikings moved within inches of the goal line on a pass to Randy Moss. Smith dove for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
Smith barely crossed the goal line, if at all, but the play was among a pair of questionable calls that Moeller decided not to contest. Replays might also have supported Moeller if he had contested the officials’ ruling that Smith did not fumble a carry in the fourth quarter.
“We looked at it and thought it was all right,” Moeller said. “We couldn’t tell if it was fumbled, and it didn’t look like it.”