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Kevin O'Connell: Evans Out; Dantzler May Return for Detroit; Darrisaw Making Progress

EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday that cornerback Akayleb Evans is in the concussion protocol and will miss this week's game at Detroit, but he expects to see progression from both cornerback Cameron Dantzler, Sr., and left tackle Christian Darrisaw.

Evans — the 118th overall selection from the 2022 NFL Draft — suffered a concussion in the third quarter of Sunday's game against the New York Jets after colliding with safety Harrison Smith while trying to tackle Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson.

It's the third concussion for Evans, who had suffered one in Week 5 against Chicago but was cleared to play in Week 6 at Miami.

Evans made his first start in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills but suffered another concussion. He missed two consecutive games before being cleared to return Sunday.

"We're going to have him go through the process and protocols," O'Connell said. "Before Akayleb plays again, we want to make sure it's 100 percent the right timing for him because we care more about the health and safety of a player like Akayleb. Although it was great having him back and I thought he really flashed in the moments he was out there, it's about his health, and we'll always be about that."

Dantzler — Evans' teammate in the secondary — could make his return this week from missing four games after suffering a high left ankle sprain during the Vikings 20-17 victory at Washington. The cornerback was placed on Injured Reserve on Nov. 12.

O'Connell said it's "more than likely" that Dantzler will practice fully this week.

"We should have a great chance to have Cam out there with us," O'Connell said. "You never want to, you know projecting a little bit [about] fully practicing and how he'll feel the day after … but we're expecting to have him out there and progress through the week in the hopes of playing on Sunday."

View the Vikings in Big Head Mode following their win over the New York Jets at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Darrisaw has missed the past two games after suffering a concussion against the Cowboys on Nov. 20. O'Connell added he has progressed really well during the past week, but similar to Evans, he wants to place Darrisaw's safety at the forefront.

"He'll continue to phase through the last few protocols that exist, and we'll continue to take it one day at a time with C.D.'s health and safety as the utmost priority," O'Connell said. "Tyler [Williams] and Uriah [Myrie] and our doctors and the independent doctors have done a great job of kind of staying true to making sure that's the No. 1 priority.

"As the week goes on, we'll see how C.D. does phasing through, hopefully getting some more practice time in and then we'll evaluate him as we go here but I think he's in a good place right now," O'Connell continued. "We'll continue to get him back when he's ready to go and we all feel like he can go out there and play at that high, high level that he's had."

Here are two additional takeaways from O'Connell's availability on Monday:

Third-quarter lulls continue to be an issue

The Vikings seemed to have all the momentum going into halftime Sunday after putting up 17 points in the second quarter and holding a 20-6 lead over the Jets.

But as it has several times this season, Minnesota hit a wall in the third quarter. The Vikings have only scored 34 points in third quarters this season, which ranks 29th in the NFL.

Defensively, the Vikings allow the second-highest points in the third quarter to their opponents at 86, with Detroit's 104 being the highest.

O'Connell said there are multiple factors that contribute to the team's current struggles in the third quarter, both offensively and defensively.

"I think our execution level can be better. Whatever it may be, let's make sure we're calling things that give us the best chance of staying on schedule and sustaining drives," O'Connell said. "Especially, it seems like getting that first down and then hopefully triggering the tools we can apply — pressure to the defense, maybe some no-huddle, maybe some different personnel groupings, but it's that first set of downs where we've got to have positive plays.

"I think defensively, [just] finding ways to get the ball back to us on offense and maybe not making it such a pressure-packed situation to where if we don't have success, we may not see the ball back for a few minutes there," O'Connell continued. "I think it sure falls on me. I feel as much as anybody, if not more than anybody, it falls on me to make sure I figure out ways to help where we can — and then giving our players a chance to go make plays in those moments to get the momentum reestablished that we had in that first when we went into the locker room with a 20-6 lead."

Next opportunity at the division comes Sunday

After not being able to capture the NFC North division title Sunday due to the Lions 40-14 victory over Jacksonville, Minnesota will have its next crack at capturing the crown this week — at Detroit.

O'Connell said they know things won't be easy, especially after a narrow victory at home against the Lions in which the Vikings rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.

"It's going to be a real big challenge for us. We understand that we're playing a really good football team that's playing some of the best football of their season, and you have to give a lot of credit to [Lions Head Coach] Dan [Campbell] and his staff and that team," O'Connell said. "When you turn on the tape, you see a really good football team in all three phases. You can see the confidence coming through and where they're headed as a football team, so we've got to play one of our best games this week in my opinion to give ourselves a chance to go get our 11th win and leave no doubt in becoming the NFC North champions for this season, but it's going to be a heck of a challenge and we know that."

Running back Alexander Mattison added the team is treating it the same as every other game.

"We want to go 1-0 this week; there's just an extra cherry on the top at the end of the day, and we just understand that it's even a better feeling to have the opportunity to go down to Detroit and put that stamp on it if we can," Mattison said. "With that goal in mind, it's been a goal of ours since we got together in OTA's, understanding that we have an opportunity to do something great as long as we all work together and grow as a team, grow as a unit, we can accomplish all of our goals that are set in front of us. This is one goal that's set in front of us within arms' reach, and we just have to continue to do the work."