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Vikings vs. Lions Week 16 Rehash

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings fell 30-24 at home to the Lions on Sunday.

After committing four interceptions in its second consecutive home game, Minnesota (7-8) is now minus-10 in the turnover margin in its five home losses this season (plus-4 in two wins).

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on Tuesday confirmed tight end T.J. Hockenson (torn ACL and MCL) and outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum (quadriceps) suffered **season-ending injuries**.

Before turning attention to the 127th Border Battle with Green Bay (7-8), here's a look at some of the deeper elements from the game against the Lions.

Next Gen Stats

3 improbable completions

Nick Mullens made his second start for the Vikings and first at home. Although he suffered the four interceptions, he threw for 411 yards, recording three completions among the 16 least likely of Week 16.

According to Next Gen Stats, Mullens' 28-yard pass to Justin Jefferson on Minnesota's final possession to convert a third-and-27 had a completion probability of 16.7 percent (second lowest of Week 16 in the NFL).

It surpassed the 26-yard touchdown involving the duo before halftime that had a completion probability of 21.3 percent. Jefferson hauled in that pass 1.6 yards from the sideline. Those are the two lowest-probability completions of the season by any Vikings QB.

Mullens' 47-yard pass to K.J. Osborn ranked as the 16th least likely completion of Week 16. Osborn topped out at 19.92 miles per hour, which was the 18th fastest speed by a ball carrier in Week 16.

The deep ball to Osborn also traveled 50.2 air yards, the longest by a Vikings QB in 2023.

Limited quick game

Mullens finished 22-of-36 passing and did most of his damage on longer-developing plays. According to NGS, when he held the ball 2.5 or more seconds, Mullens was 18-of-31 passing with 380 yards.

When getting the ball out faster than 2.5 seconds, Mullens was 4-for-4 with 31 yards.

On 'Blitz-en'

Detroit was not shy about sending blitzers.

It yielded results with three Lions involved in seven of the fastest sacks by defenders in Week 16.

Defensive back Brian Branch topped the league list by recording a sack in 2.27 seconds.

Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu ranked fourth, getting home in 3.07 seconds, and defensive end Romeo Okwara's sack in 3.27 seconds ranked seventh.

Snap Counts

Mullens and all five offensive linemen who started — left tackle Christian Darrisaw, left guard Dalton Risner, center Garrett Bradbury, right guard Ed Ingram and right tackle David Quessenberry — played all 55 offensive snaps.

Jefferson led offensive skill players with 54 snaps, followed by Osborn, who played 47 and took on extra work after Jordan Addison (21 snaps) left the game with an ankle injury. Brandon Powell (28) also played more after Addison's injury. Lucky Jackson played his first offensive snap and 12 on special teams in his NFL debut after he was elevated from the practice squad.

Ty Chandler started at running back and played 36 offensive snaps. Alexander Mattison (five) returned to the lineup after missing Week 15 because of an ankle injury.

Hockenson (24) left the game on Minnesota's second play of the second half. Johnny Mundt (23) and Josh Oliver (20) also each played more than one-third of the Vikings offensive snaps, and C.J. Ham was in for 17.

Linebacker Jordan Hicks returned to action for the first time since a shin injury in Week 10 and played all 79 defensive snaps. So did safeties Josh Metellus, Camryn Bynum and Harrison Smith.

Outside linebacker Danielle Hunter wound up taking 74 defensive snaps despite being on last week's injury report with an illness. Wonnum played 60 snaps before suffering his injury. Pat Jones II was in for 54 defensive snaps and another 11 on special teams.

Linebacker Ivan Pace, Jr., who had started in place of Hicks, played 30 defensive snaps and recovered his first career fumble (one of two forced during the game by Bynum).

Akayleb Evans led cornerbacks with 65 defensive snaps. Rookie Mekhi Blackmon was in for 39 before suffering a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Andrew Booth, Jr., who played 38 defensive snaps.

Jonathan Bullard (59) and Harrison Phillips (58) led Vikings defensive linemen.

From the Inbox

Greetings from a long-time Vikes fan in Malvern, England.

Nick Mullens was never the answer — as per Kurt Warner, I believe Joshua Dobbs would have been a better option with schemes utilizing his strengths. Mullens had four interceptions, but the previous week, he was lucky not to have five. Either give Dobbs another shot, or I thought Jaren Hall played really well until he got injured. Let's see what we have with him.


— Jim Alcock

The eight interceptions thrown by Mullens and Dobbs in each of Minnesota's past two home games have their own stories. Dobbs suffered four picks against the Bears, and Mullens tossed four to the Lions.

Dobbs has five since joining Minnesota in Week 9 (interception percentage of 3.3); Mullens has six since relieving Dobbs at Las Vegas in Week 14 (interception percentage of 7.3).

Kirk Cousins threw five through eight starts this season (interception percentage of 1.8 percent).

We've seen similar sample sizes for Dobbs and Mullens with too many interceptions by each to provide sustainable recipes for winning.

Hall's time on the field has been much smaller. He entered the game at Green Bay after the injury to Cousins and then played two series the following week in his first NFL start.

I thought all along that Hall gave the Vikings the best chance to win out. I'm still waiting to get him back in there to get the last two wins. Even though they're done now, Hall is still their best option since Cousins got hurt.

— Trent Z.

OK, so we have tried the Dobbs experiment and now the Mullens experiment. At what time do we just see what Hall can do? I mean it's the end of the season anyways with this many injuries.

— Travis H.

I'm combining these notes from Trent and Travis to represent other emailers who have asked about seeing Hall. There are numerous factors that go into every decision a coaching staff makes, and the Vikings went with Dobbs based on the way he was able to provide the relief effort at Atlanta (Hall's lone start, which ended near the goal line when he suffered a concussion).

Dobbs then flourished in the first half the following week against New Orleans before an up-and-down night at Denver that was followed by another disappointing showing in prime time against Chicago.

O'Connell stayed with Dobbs the following week at Las Vegas before turning to Mullens, who led a crisp drive for the winning field goal, the only victory during this five-game stretch that has had four one-score losses by a combined 12 points.

O'Connell spoke virtually with media members on Tuesday and was asked if the plan is still for Mullens to remain the starter. He said the following:

"We're working through that right now, making sure we go through a full evaluation process of the Lions game, of course, but going back to the Bengals game and taking inventory of both of Nick's starts and when he came into the game against the Raiders, as well," O'Connell said. "We've had some turnovers. There's no doubt about it, and the interceptions have kind of been the story for much of the year since we lost Kirk at that position, and we're trying to work through what we feel gives us the best chance to still be explosive like we were moving the football the other day against the Lions but we've got to find a way to still possess the football and not set our team back.

"We've talked at great length about that turnover stat and turnover margin and what it looks like when we break even over the last couple of years, and that's our goal," O'Connell continued. "The defense forces an early turnover the other day, and we have a chance to go down and maybe add to our lead in those moments and we end up with the ball going the other way on that fourth-down play, and that's just one example of us not maximizing our opportunities within the game to execute, to do our jobs, to do the things we need to do to sustain some momentum in some of these games, and that's what we're looking at, at the quarterback position and really across the board with our whole team, what that looks like now that we're late in the year and have been in the mindset of, 'We're just focused on winning one football game and what that takes for this week.' "

The Vikings will resume practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and it seems as if O'Connell will make that decision before then in order to give the offense the best opportunity to prepare for the Packers.

The increased emphasis on developing an effective passing attack has resulted in some improvement in the Vikings offense but:

  1. Quality NFL play requires both a passing and running game. This was more than evident in the Lions game. By closing down the Vikings running game they were saying beat us with the pass. The time of possession was dramatically in the Lions favor and the Vikings defense wore down in addition to not having a good day to start with.
  1. The Lions have a quality offensive line that can support both a passing and run offense. There have been glimpses on the Vikings side but not the consistency that's required. This has been one of the top three barriers for the Vikings to address for years. Not just starting lineman but depth.
  1. As Case Keenum was able to do during the Viking run (only to get blown up by the Eagles) mobility at quarterback in and out of pocket is critical. The Viking offense revolves around a pocket passer — Kirk [Cousins] — and the club has to make some decisions about the type of mobility that's required in a quarterback along with strong passing capabilities. Too many pocket passer types in the last six or seven years (sans Keenum and Dobbs) with an offensive line that is good-to-great at times but also poor-to-very poor at other times.

Defense and special teams are additional issues, but it all comes down to money.

— Randy S.

I'd imagine any team playing against backup quarterbacks — and there have been plenty this season! — would emphasize taking away from the running game to put more weight on the passing game.

Detroit's duo of David Montgomery (17 carries for 55 yards and one touchdown) and Jahmyr Gibbs (15-80-2) succeeded in moving the ball and maintaining possession, save for the fumble by Gibbs.

Chandler (8-17-1) and Mattison (two carries netted minus-1 yard) didn't have much room to run.

The Lions kept the ball for 38:22 and went 4-for-5 in the red zone, compared to 21:38 and 2-for-3 by the Vikings.

Detroit utilized several of its high picks on offensive linemen and has reaped rewards. Their starting offensive line on Sunday featured three first-round picks (LT Taylor Decker in 2016, C Frank Ragnow in 2018 and RT Penei Sewell in 2021), as well as guards who were selected in the third round in 2016 and 2020. The group is talented and has grown together over time.

Minnesota tried to double down on continuity this offseason by returning each offensive linemen but has had players miss games here and there on the outside and switched in-season to Risner (and trading Ezra Cleveland).

Keenum played with movement and a certain ability to elude from time to time (remember him ducking out of a couple of sacks?). Cousins does do with play-actions, rollouts and keepers, but I don't think either would be the first listed under "mobile QB" categories.

The limited time on task made it virtually impossible for Minnesota to fuse Dobbs' mobility with an offensive system designed around Cousins, Jefferson, Hockenson and others within a season.