Nick Mullens looked around the huddle and asked his teammates to keep grinding for one more quarter.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell handed Mullens the reins after three-plus quarters of a scoreless football game that already had featured multiple injuries and offensive miscues, and the QB helped Minnesota leave Las Vegas after winning the lowest-scoring NFL game since 2007.
Sunday's first points by either team occurred with just 1:57 remaining, when Greg Joseph kicked a 36-yard field goal for the 3-0 final score.
Mullens played two series for Minnesota after Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell opted to sub him in for Joshua Dobbs with 9:10 remaining. The 28-year-old had previously backed up Kirk Cousins but was on Injured Reserve with a back injury when Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles tear at Green Bay.
"It was a collective effort. You obviously never know when your name's going to be called, but you just prepare, work as hard as you can and trust there's a plan out there for you. So I did that, stepped in," Mullens said. "The guys did an incredible job. I mean, they had a tough day – a game like that where it's up and down and you never know what's going to happen. Grinding it out as an offensive line and a skill group.
"I just told them, 'I know it's been a hard day, but I need your best.' I thought collectively we were able to do that," Mullens added. "It was only a field goal, but sometimes that's all it takes. And obviously the defense was doing [its thing] the entire game. So when you can match those up, it doesn't matter what it looks like – a win is a win."
O'Connell spoke about the decision to move from Dobbs to Mullens, saying initially the game plan had involved capitalizing on Dobbs' ability as a runner, "whether it be zone read or some design," but Las Vegas' defense made things extremely difficult up front.
Dobbs was sacked five times for a total loss of 47 yards, with two of those takedowns credited to edge rusher Maxx Crosby.
"They got after us a little bit up front. A couple adjustments we didn't make when things were moving fast out there, gave them some easy sacks," O'Connell said. "But you've gotta give them credit. Crosby is, even though he's dealing with some injuries right now, he's a special, special player, so I want to give him as much credit as possible. It makes it hard to call the game trying to find where he is and make sure you try to help in any way, shape or form.
"[But I did] decide there in the second half that maybe Nick would provide us with not only a spark, but just knowing we would probably have to have two or three or four third-down conversions, felt like my trust in Nick – with his preparation – he could be called upon," O'Connell continued. "We got him some reps last week to make sure that he was ready to go, and he did exactly that. Went in and made some critical, critical plays to move the chains and ultimately get us in range for the very limited [number] of points we got today offensively – but enough to win the football game."
When Mullens entered the ball game, the Vikings had just 16 net passing yards. His first pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson gained 26.
"I was just ready to play. I was excited," Mullens said. "If you're gonna go in, you might as well go in, you know? But it was fun. Our group is so good. T.J., the time we spent together, and the receivers, o-line, running backs. Hand the ball off to C.J. Ham, carried out my fake. I see [No. 30] and I'm like, 'Oh, that's C.J. Let's go!' So it's awesome. We have a great group, like I said. We just have to continue to press forward."
Minnesota did end that first drive with Mullens in a punt, the team's eighth of the game. But the Vikings defense shut down the Raiders once again, giving Mullens back the ball with just over five minutes remaining.
He converted three third-down attempts, completing passes to K.J. Osborn (12 yards), Hockenson (6) and rookie Jordan Addison (20) to set up Joseph for the field goal.
"Sometimes that's just the way the game goes," Mullens said of the low-scoring battle. "I thought their defense did a really good job. [Raiders Defensive Coordinator Patrick Graham] has done a great job, even going back to my time in Vegas. I felt like it's pretty hard to know what you're getting, and they have great players. [Marcus] Epps is a great player, their guys on the outside and then obviously Maxx Crosby. So they're a force. I mean, they're really good. But at the same time, we just need to be able to trust our teammates and make it happen when we needed it."
Mullens finished his outing 9-of-13 passing for 83 yards with a passer rating of 86.4. Before Dobbs was taken out, he was 10-of-23 passing for 63 yards. His passer rating was 50.8.
The Vikings struggled through the air most of the afternoon.
Hockenson led the team with five catches for 53 yards. Justin Jefferson and Addison each had two catches for 27, while Osborn had just 15 yards on four receptions. The offense suffered multiple drops.
O'Connell noted he did not take the decision to switch quarterbacks midgame lightly.
"I credit Josh for his preparation. I credit him for coming out and giving our offense some chances in the first half," O'Connell said. "There's probably a couple guys in there, thinking back on a few plays, that would tell you they can make that play when given the opportunity. And just as the game went on, just a couple plays here and there that probably Josh would love to have back. Felt like they were going to make it tough for him to really get up and out and attack. He got us an early first down, there, with his legs and then it dried up from there.
"It's difficult," O'Connell added. "I want always to communicate and be honest, and I just said, 'At this point in time, I want to give Nick a chance to get in there.' Nick's got a great feel for our offense, and I was able to call it for him and communicate with him a little bit, he went out there and executed it."
Outside of the passing game, Minnesota did take advantage of a Raiders run defense that's allowed some yardage to opponents all season.
Alexander Mattison averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, totaling 10 carries for 66 yards, and helped the Vikings mix it up offensively. Ty Chandler had 12 carries for 35 yards.
In addition to some performance gaffes offensively, the Vikings also faced multiple injuries to key players.
Jefferson, in his first game back after missing seven with a hamstring injury, suffered a massive hit by Epps (formerly a Viking) on a high pass from Dobbs. Jefferson was initially ruled questionable with a chest injury but was downgraded to out and transported to a local hospital to "rule out any potential complications" internally.
O'Connell provided positive news postgame, saying Jefferson was evaluated and returned back to the stadium to travel home with the team.
"I feel pretty encouraged about the early news on Justin, and we'll have to see over a short week how he's able to turn over from this," O'Connell said.
Brian O'Neill left the game with a left ankle sprain and was replaced at right tackle by David Quessenberry. Left guard Dalton Risner went down briefly and was relieved by Austin Schlottmann but did later return to action.
Jalen Nailor was a late-game exit with a concussion, and Mattison suffered a right ankle sprain at the start of the third quarter that kept him out for the remainder of the day.
"It's unfortunate. It sucks. It's part of football. I hope he's all right. He's an incredible football player; it's an honor to be his teammate, so when he goes down [it's hard]," Mullens said of Jefferson's injury. "And Brian – he's got a 'C' on his chest. When he goes down, it's tough. It sucks, to be blatantly honest. But that's the game we play, and that's why it's hard. That's why toughness as a team is needed, and we had enough of that today."
Mullens credited reserve players for not missing a beat when called upon to step in.
"Great teams in the NFL have great depth, and I believe that we have great depth," he said. "Week 1 every year, they tell you, 'This 53 is not going to be the final 53.' So wherever you fall in that line, you've just gotta be ready. And across the board, our team has done a tremendous job of that this year."
The Vikings improved to 7-6 after Sunday's win and will now prepare on a truncated week before playing the Bengals in Cincinnati Saturday.
"There's so much room to improve, just across the board, but you've gotta enjoy it," Mullens said. "It's hard to win in the NFL, it's hard to win on the road, so you've gotta enjoy it. Long travel [home to Minneapolis], so it's more time with your teammates to have a good time. Gonna enjoy it."