Vikings get improved quarterback play from Nick Mullens, but their playoff hopes take a hit

Sat, Dec 16, 2023
NFL News (AP)

Vikings get improved quarterback play from Nick Mullens, but their playoff hopes take a hit

CINCINNATI (AP) - The Vikings got the improved quarterback play they were looking for with Nick Mullens behind center. Whether he can lead Minnesota to the playoffs remains to be seen.

Mullens, the fourth quarterback to start for the Vikings this season, was 26 of 33 for 303 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. But he also had a pair of interceptions in a 27-24 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I thought Nick Mullens played well enough to give us a chance to go into overtime on the road and win a game," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said. "As a team, we just didn't do enough in the end."

The Vikings led 17-3 in the fourth quarter, but the Bengals scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions to send the game to OT.

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Minnesota forced a punt on the Bengals' first possession of the extra period, but Mullens was stopped short on a QB sneak on fourth-and-1, and Cincinnati went on to win it on Evan McPherson's 29-yard field goal.

"Very unfortunate," O'Connell said. "Come on the road and battle a team that's playing well right now. Felt like we let one slip away."

The Vikings have three games remaining, all against NFC North opponents. They face the division-leading Lions twice and host the Packers.

"Very fortunate to have two of them at home," O'Connell said. "We know all three teams. We'll put together some good plans and attack every opportunity to go win them all."

This was the 18th NFL start for the 28-year-old Mullens and his first since 2021. If he remains the Vikings' starter, he'll face three pressure-packed games.

"We're aware that playoffs are still an opportunity," Mullens said. "That's the goal we are all chasing. At the same time, I'm just focused on one play at a time."

Mullens made three throws on Saturday that he'd like to have back.

One was intercepted by Mike Hilton at the goal line. Another was a juggling interception by B.J. Hill at the Bengals 30.

Fortunately for Mullens, a pick-6 by Germaine Pratt in the fourth quarter that would have given Cincinnati the lead was negated by an offsides call.

"Absolute grind of a football game," Mullens said. "It stinks for sure. I love our group and we're not backing down. Team's just going to keep pressing. Excited to get back to work."

Since a season-ending injury to Kirk Cousins in Week 8, the Vikings started rookie Jaren Hall for one game before turning to Joshua Dobbs for four straight. Dobbs was benched late in last week's 3-0 win at Las Vegas.

Mullens had much greater success finding playmaking receivers Jordan Addison (six catches, 111 yards, two TDs) and Justin Jefferson (seven receptions, 84 yards). Still, O'Connell wouldn't commit to Mullens being the starter on Dec. 24 against the Lions.

"Nick showed that he can execute our offense and move the football team," O'Connell said. "What we have to continue to work with through are those plays where we don't try to do too much. Nick's out there for really the second time this season and there's a lot to work through."

The Vikings (7-7) are still in playoff position - for now. Five teams are a half-game behind them in the NFC.

"We're still in it," Jefferson said. "Even this game, we're one, two plays away from winning the game. That's the difficult part about it. We've got to move on and think about next week."

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