Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

Presented by

Final Thoughts: Vikings at Bengals in Week 15

EAGAN, Minn. — It's been a week to remember for Vikings rookie linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr.

Following a career-high 13 tackles at Las Vegas on Sunday and grabbing a game-sealing interception, Pace was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 14. He returns to his home city of Cincinnati on Saturday to face the Bengals on his 23rd birthday.

No gift would be sweeter for the undrafted rising star than helping the Vikings earn their eighth victory ahead of a three-game stretch versus the NFC North.

But before shifting their focus to the Lions (twice) and the Packers, Pace, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell, and the Vikings know they must take care of business in their last outdoor game of the regular season.

"A really big-time challenge. [The Bengals are] playing really well. [Head Coach Zac Taylor] has those guys playing really well. [Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo's] defense is one of the best in our league," O'Connell said. "Tough road environment, huge challenge for us. Got to go play well. Going to have to play well in all three phases to get this win."

History favors the Vikings on Saturdays. Minnesota is 20-10 all-time when playing regular-season games and an NFL-best 8-1 since 1995.

That showing includes 2022 wins over the Colts and Giants, highlighted by Minnesota's rally for the largest comeback in NFL history (33 points) against Indianapolis and a franchise-record, 61-yard field goal by Greg Joseph against New York.

Quarterback Nick Mullens will get his first start since nearly two years ago. The sixth-year veteran last started a regular-season game on Dec. 20, 2021 (with the Browns against the Raiders).

Minnesota controls its divisional destiny. Four wins over the next four weeks would earn the Vikings a second consecutive NFC North title.

Matchup to watch: Vikings blitzes vs. Jake Browning

Bengals quarterback Jake Browning is doing his best Joe Burrow impersonation.

Since taking over after Burrow's Week 10 season-ending wrist injury, Browning is 2-1 in three starts. He's thrown for 629 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His completion percentage of 79.3 is the highest in an NFL quarterback's first three starts (records kept since 1950).

That's all impressive, but the Vikings defense has been tormenting quarterbacks.

Last week, Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores helped the Vikings earn their first shutout victory with three or more takeaways since Week 14 of the 1993 season.

Flores' "Everything or Nothing" scheme is causing issues for opposing quarterbacks. The Vikings send six-plus rushers or three-or-fewer rushers at the highest rates in the league. Their rate of sending four or five rushers is the lowest.

Browning should expect similar chaos. He, however, has fared well against pressure. Since Week 13, Browning has averaged 8.8 yards per attempt versus the blitz. He's also thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions and has a 128.4 passer rating against the blitz. His passer rating facing the blitz is third-highest in the league (minimum of 25 pass attempts).

The Vikings defense has blitzed on a league-high 46.8 percent of opposing dropbacks.

Browning versus Flores' play calling is the matchup to watch on Saturday.

Six Points: Memorable Week 15 Quotes

Pace on earning NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors:

"I just came off the field and everybody was telling me 'congratulations' and stuff. It felt good. … It's a long time coming, man."

Mullens on being the fourth QB to start for Minnesota this season:

"We have a great room. We have a great group of guys. Josh [Dobbs] just came in and has been nothing but a positive influence on our team, and obviously he's done incredible stuff with the win at Atlanta and his other wins, as well. We have a great room, and you never know what the NFL's going to give you. You never know what the season's going to be like, so it's important to be tight, have chemistry, good communication, and we're led by [quarterbacks coach] Chris O'Hara and obviously Kirk Cousins and [assistant quarterbacks coach] Grant [Udinski] – our whole room. Great chemistry. That's our whole team, though. [O'Connell] talks about our culture here, and it's every person in the building, and it all matters, and everybody con- tributes."

Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on what Mullens brings to the offense:

"Nick's played a lot of football. Nick knows this offense well. He's been with us for a while; he knows this system. As good of a job and as appreciative as I am of Josh, Nick probably is more comfortable in our system, just from being here longer, getting the reps throughout the offseason and throughout training camp. So I think you'll see an efficient group."

TE T.J. Hockenson on Bengals defense:

"I think they're a good defense. They've got a good D-line. Their secondary relies on them a little bit. They've got some good players on that side of the ball, so they're going to throw some pressures at us. I know they've got a lot of nickel pressures, and we'll see what they do. We've seemed to scout some things out, and then they end up doing some different things and we've got to hurdle on the fly, so I think we've just got to be open and ready for everything they throw at us and just be open and adaptable on the sideline. It's going to be a great challenge for us. They're a good defense. Like I said, their defensive line, we saw obviously a good D-lineman last week in [Maxx] Crosby and we'll see some more this week. I think it's going to be a good challenge for us, and we've got to step up."

G Dalton Risner on team continuing to find a way despite adversities:

"It is easier said than done. One thing we've done a great job of is finding a way. You look at not only maybe the number of guys who have gone down on this team but maybe even the quality of guys who have gone down on this football team. … And we've found a way. It's a testament to the culture, the organization and the coaches here. I think it's also a testament to the guys in this locker room and what we're willing to do and what we're willing to put on the line for each other on game days and throughout the week to be prepared. The one thing I don't think is noticed as much is, a lot of guys who have gotten time in these games are guys who haven't gotten the week to prepare. I mean, it's being thrown in. You're thrown in on game day, 'Can you make something happen?' That's a testament to what this place is about. I've said it to you guys since the day I showed up here. It was the same way when we were 2-4 and you guys were asking me questions, and it's when we're 7-6 now. The culture here is different, man, and I think that shows in times like this."

O'Connell on chances of returning Jordan Hicks from Injured Reserve:

"Yeah, we're in kind of in dialogue right now about whether that's going to be at some point maybe this week or whether we'll push it to next week, but Jordan is probably ahead of schedule when considering the severity of what we felt kind of in the immediate aftermath of kind of his injury, so where he's at now is very, very positive, and I think Jordan's getting really close to maybe being able to start officially practicing, having his window back open, but I will definitely keep you guys informed, and that's something I'm looking forward to, as well, getting him back in there next to IP (Pace) with what IP's done, as well, could be a good boost to an already strong group on our team right now."

Milestones Approaching

Jefferson needs 90 yards to break Michael Thomas' record for most receiving yards in an NFL player's first four seasons. He passed Hall of Famer and Vikings Ring of Honor member Randy Moss (5,396) for second last week.

Danielle Hunter enters Week 15 with 84.5 career sacks, which is just one behind Vikings Ring of Honor member Jared Allen, who ranks sixth in franchise history (includes totals before 1982 when sacks became an official NFL stat). Hunter has 13.5 through 13 games, which is one shy of his highest single-season tally (14.5 in 2018 and 2019).

Congrats to…

Hockenson recorded five catches last week to break Kyle Rudolph's single-season Vikings record for catches by a tight end (Rudolph had 83 in 2016).

Harrison Smith played in his 172nd career game Sunday, the most ever by a Vikings defensive back. Smith passed Paul Krause (171). He also broke the Hall of Famer's franchise record for starts by a defensive back (150) in 2022.

"Fan-ally" Friday

Wow! I love the Vikings defensive coordinator! You are LIT!! I've been watching with my dad since I was a little girl, and you, Mr. Brian Flores, are truly amazing, and I hope we don't lose you! My dad, Walter Olson from Barnesville, Minnesota, has since passed away — it will be two years ago in January. He Loved his Vikings!

— Judi Hudson

Editor's Note: Judi sent a couple of photos with her email, so I'm including them.


First off, I'd like to express my condolences on the loss of your father.

Second, I'd like to say how awesome it is that you and other family members are continuing his passion for the team.


Third, Flores deserves tremendous credit for this system that has innovated its way and dictated to offenses. It's been really incredible to see everything take shape.

O'Connell awarded game balls last week to every defensive player and coach for the 16th shutout in franchise history.

  1. The last three games, though we lost two (by 1 and 2 points), have sent some really important messages to us and the rest of the league. I seem to remember that a TV comment on the Broncos game was that our defense had gone from an average of 29 points per game last year to only 21 this year (and 21 was how many the Broncos got). (And the Broncos under Sean Payton are a different team.) After that — 12 points in two games. That just doesn't happen in today's NFL. In other words, we have a defense that took a few games to get settled in (though we only were losing one-score games) and then become premier. For a long time, that has been one key to who ends up going to and often deep in the playoffs. We may have avoided most bad injuries on defense, but we have had recent new players (who knew undrafted Ivan Pace, Jr.?) making some key plays and veteran players like [D.J.] Wonnum, Harrison and Danielle Hunter having very good seasons.
  1. The great, high-ranked Detroit? Don't count them out, but the Bears just beat them by 15 points (and that wasn't the Lions only bad defeat), and now we find ourselves, even if it may be tough, in control of our own outcome, with two games with Detroit, one with Green Bay, and Cincinnati. Who among the doubters of everything we were doing imagined this? (A hint: the front office, the coaching staff and the players evidently did. That's all.)
  1. Our coaches aren't making decisions by rote; they are, in my view, ready to make risks and come up with very good and sometimes unorthodox decisions. And in a season (and a day!) that had a number of upsets, I can't wait to see what the last four regular season games will come with this team!

Thanks for listening as usual.

— Brad Lewis in Schenectady, New York

Happy to hear back from Brad here, laying out the status of the team.

Since Week 6, the numbers are elite.

Minnesota has allowed 15.0 points per game (fewest in NFL), 291.8 yards per game (sixth in NFL) and 87.0 rushing yards per game (fifth in NFL). The Vikings are averaging 2.0 takeaways per game in that stretch (tied for third in the NFL) and have been so stingy in the red zone (league-leading 35.0 percent) that Ebenezer Scrooge would smile.

The Lions so far have split NFC North contests with the Packers and Bears this season for a 2-2 mark in the division. Detroit's other two losses were to Seattle by six and at Baltimore by 32.

The final four games of the regular season are going to feel like every game is a playoff game, but Minnesota is positioned to control its own fate. The Vikings, first, must limit a surging Bengals team that has scored 34 in each of the past two weeks.

Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Bengals.

I'm not certain what the demand will be for Brian Flores in the offseason for a head coaching position; he certainly is deserving. That said, it would be crazy to let a talented coach that has turned around a D that was ranked basically worst last year into a top-tier D and with way fewer experienced players to boot. Wilfs, please pay the man and get him extended!

— Karl in Loomis, California

I always want people who earn great opportunities to be able to evaluate their options.

This consistent display by the Vikings defense will land Flores' name in plenty of discussions on the ever-churning speculation shows.

He, the defensive assistants and players deserve tremendous credit for what they've been able to put together and become such a strength for the team, especially in a year where injuries to offensive starters have been so prevalent.

O'Connell keeps stressing the importance of the offense protecting the football, regardless of who is in the game, and for great reasons that start with how good this defense has been.

Going back to last year, Minnesota is 17-0 in games under O'Connell when the Vikings have a positive or neutral turnover differential.

This also will be put to the test this week, as Cincinnati is tied for second in the NFL with a plus-10 turnover differential this season.