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Monday Morning Mailbag: Nick Mullens' 1st Vikings Start, Overtime Play Calls

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The Vikings missed a tremendous opportunity against the Bengals over the weekend, committing two costly turnovers in the red zone in the first half, allowing three consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and failing to convert on third- and fourth-and-inches in overtime for the second consecutive 27-24 loss at Cincinnati since the 2021 season-opener.

Minnesota fell to 7-7 with three games remaining that are all in the NFC North. Minnesota must sweep, and Detroit (10-4) must be swept for the Vikings to win the division. The teams, of course, meet in Minnesota in Week 16 and close the regular season at Detroit. A Lions win will mean Detroit's first NFC North title and first division crown since 1993.

In between, the Vikings will host another Border Battle with the Packers, who lost 34-20 at home to the Buccaneers Sunday and fell to 6-8, and the Lions will visit the Cowboys in Week 17.

The Packers are no longer in contention to win the division, but they could still make the playoffs with a late-season rally.

Despite the disappointing showing in a city where Minnesota is now 1-8 all-time, the Vikings remain in contention for a Wild Card berth and enter today as the No. 6 seed in the NFC.

The Vikings — and many emailers — are again thinking about what might have been after another close loss. Minnesota's seven losses have been by a combined 26 points, and the past three have been by 1, 2 and 3 points. The seven wins have been by a combined 47 points, with the only double-digit margin in either direction being Minnesota's 24-10 win at Green Bay in Week 8 in which the Vikings lost Kirk Cousins for the season, creating a domino effect for the offense.

With that in mind, and against the backdrop of Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reporting over the weekend that Teddy Bridgewater plans to retire after the season and coach high school football, I thought I'd start the Mailbag a little differently than after some games.

I know it's not relevant to this week's game. I know that Teddy plays for the Lions (whom we are chasing for the division).

"Whatever was meant for me, it played out the exact way it was meant." — Bridgewater

"When I got hurt, I realized that I'm only a football player for three hours on a Sunday afternoon," Bridgewater said. "Outside of that, I'm Theodore Bridgewater, so it just put everything into perspective, and it really helped me not even have to think about not being a starter [anymore]. It's like, 'Man, I still got purpose.' And my purpose is bigger than the game of football. Football is just a platform that I have."

Teddy announced he is retiring at the end of the season. I, like many Vikings fans, remember the day Teddy went down. We weren't concerned about the team, we were concerned about Teddy as a person. I remember reading an article a day or two later. Vikings players went to the hospital, to cheer Teddy up. He was the one that cheered them up.

His humbleness is the reason Vikings fans love him, to this day.

— Troy Boblitt in Springfield, Illinois

I appreciate Troy sending in these thoughts. Before news broke about Teddy over the weekend, he had crossed my mind because Minnesota had clinched the NFC North with a win against Cincinnati in Week 15 of the 2017 season. In addition to a nice day from Case Keenum, Latavius Murray and a pick-6 by Eric Kendricks, the day also featured the return to action for Bridgewater.

The "TED-DY" chants by the U.S. Bank Stadium faithful to welcome him back from an extensive rehab and seeing Bridgewater take three snaps in the victory formation are a memory I hope I never forget. I've also kept a memory of how much hurt there was for Bridgewater during the ill-fated step at Winter Park just before the 2016 season started.

Troy is spot-on with the outpouring of concern for Teddy, the person. More and more people outside the organization learned what a special man he is.

In addition to providing support, the Vikings organization also had to figure things out quickly. Minnesota traded for Sam Bradford on the Saturday before Labor Day. Bradford played that season but was injured early in 2017, prompting Keenum's opportunity. Another round of dominoes befell across the NFL in the offseason.

The Vikings opted to sign Cousins in March 2018 and have had plenty of changes at offensive coordinator and one change at the top in Cousins' time, but his availability was unaffected by injury until this season. Multiple other injuries have followed at the position for the Vikings, who have now started four different quarterbacks in a season for the first time in team history.

It was cool to see Teddy featured and the peace relayed through his quotes. He will continue to have a tremendous impact on young people as a high school coach.

Interesting game for sure. Back-to-back OT games in Cincinnati, both lost 27-24. Too bad about the wasted opportunities for points in the first half on offense — they just killed us. Weak play in OT lost a game we should have won in regulation. Poor play with the game on the line in OT on both sides of the ball equals a loss. Below are my 3 Ups and 3 Downs for the game.


  1. Opening offensive possessions: First, the Vikings opening possession of the game for a TD. Second, the opening drive of the second half for an TD. Very nicely done by Nick Mullens and the offense on both counts.
  1. Defense playing tough early. Holding the Bengals to 3 points on their game-opening drive and to 3 points total in the first half.
  1. Mullens' goat-to-hero drive in the fourth quarter. First the goat on the gross pick-6, telegraphed and read screen pass that was thankfully overturned. Then the TD pass to [Jordan] Addison off the scramble to take the lead. Amazing.


  1. Mullens' two interception turnovers within scoring range — a poor pass on the first one and then just a bonehead play/gift to a Bengals defensive lineman on the second one. Six points minimum given up by the Vikings.
  1. The defense gives up back-to-back-to-back TD drives from the end of third into the fourth quarter, including a third-and-21 conversion and fourth-down rushing TD, and throw up a prayer to Tee Higgins. Vikings tailor momentum for the Bengals to tie the game.
  1. The third and fourth-down calls and execution in OT. Embarrassing.

Looking forward to the Lions.


— Jeff L.

There will be plenty of comments from others about Jeff's third "down," so I'll focus here on his other points.

Touchdown drives to start each half were impressive. The Vikings stayed ahead of the chains with nice rushes by Ty Chandler, who was making his first start, and with some good, in-rhythm decision making by Mullens.

It was actually the first time this entire season for Minnesota to open each half with a touchdown. The Vikings were again moving the ball, but a pair of pass plays on third-and-7-plus situations resulted in consecutive red zone interceptions. Instead of a 13-3 lead at halftime that would have grown to 20-3, the Vikings only led 7-3 at intermission, which was then stretched to 14-3 and 17-3 before Cincinnati's rally.

The first pick was a throw intended for Justin Jefferson that Mike Hilton nabbed at the 1-yard line. The second was a bad decision under duress from B.J. Hill, who recorded the rare QB hit/interception combo on the play after the football bounced off him multiple times.

Mullens spoke about the importance of ending those possessions with points. It's always tough to balance aggressiveness with making sure a possession gets at least a field goal, but the Vikings had shown the value of three points the previous week.

After the Bengals tied the game at 17 with 7:46 remaining, it appeared Cincinnati had scored on a pick-6 by Germaine Pratt, but Trey Hendrickson was offsides on the play.

Five plays later, Mullens found Addison for the rookie's second score of the game. The resiliency to bounce back after the near pick is something the Vikings could potentially build on going forward, but the biggest thing is trying to avoid turnovers that have knee-capped the Vikings throughout the season.

Mullens' debut as the starter definitely had some good and some bad moments. It's unfortunate that as a veteran, he still played a little desperate, trying to force some things we didn't need to force. If he manages the ball in those moments and we get at least the two likely field goals on those drives, we could have had a winning outcome. That said, he looked more comfortable and was definitely more effective than [Joshua] Dobbs in leading the team, and I think if he can play a bit more controlled, he can get some wins with this team. Kudos to Addison on a big game and Ty Chandler for a really strong performance.

— Mike Brown

We didn't win. But I don't think it's Mullens' fault. He did all right. It was a good scrap. If I'm wrong, tell me why.

— Sandra Deneen

Combining these thoughts from Mike and Sandra. Mullens delivered the ball on time and led receivers nicely, but there were a couple of errant throws (one that T.J. Hockenson snared was particularly impressive).

The comfort level with the offense was evident, and Addison's two touchdowns were the first two since Week 8, boosting his season total to nine.

The interceptions were definitely costly. He'd be the first to tell you that, but there are plenty of encouraging moments heading into this critical stretch.

We have a talented defense, and I feel so bad for them. In the third quarter, we went two touchdowns up and all looked good. Then – someone made the decision to go into playing back in a zone defense. It allowed the Bengals offense to move up the field in large chunks and brought the discouraged, quiet crowd back into the game. They won – end of story. Mullens wasn't even mediocre by any measure, but that one coaching decision took us out of it. I stand back and look at the recent coaching decisions (especially about the QBs) and you have to wonder what our record would look like if we'd made some better choices. Just saying.

— Lloyd in Alaska

Aside from the Packers game in Week 8, the Vikings have struggled to protect leads, and it has appeared teams have gotten hot after taking advantage of some openings in zones.

The 24-yard gain (on third-and-21 from the Minnesota 43) allowed to Ja'Marr Chase on a deep inbreaking route brought back memories of Chicago's Justin Fields hitting DJ Moore for 36 (on third-and-10 from the Minnesota 49) to set up the winning field goal in Week 12. Those are the No. 1 receivers for each team.

The moon ball with a flight trajectory more like a punt from Jake Browning to Tee Higgins for a 21-yard touchdown on second-and-10 to tie the game at 24 with 39 seconds remaining brought back memories of Courtland Sutton high-pointing the football from Russell Wilson for Denver's only touchdown in Week 11.

Sometimes it comes down to play calls, sometimes it comes down to execution at catch points.

The Bengals tied us [at 17] with a little over 7 minutes to go. We go downfield and scored a TD but left three-plus minutes on the clock. The Bengals scored. I would have liked us to move the chains and leave the Bengals with little or no time on the clock. Great teams do that. We are not great yet. Something to work on.

— Gerald Goblirsch

Seven-minute drives are hard to come by, but so are 30-yard runs.

It's hard to fault a 30-yard scamper by Chandler that moved the ball all the way to the 1 on the play before Mullens' second touchdown to Addison. When he was marked down shy of the goal line, my first thought was, "At least that will run some more time off the clock." It did, but clearly not enough, as Minnesota scored on the next snap.

The Vikings needed just seven plays to drive 75 yards for the go-ahead score with 3:48 remaining.

Cincinnati didn't even need to burn a single timeout on its drive that followed.

This team continues to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Mindless turnovers: Whoever plays QB doesn't know to get rid of the ball in the red zone when nothing is open. Even the TD pass for Addison's second TD was ill-advised. He should have thrown the ball out of bounds & come back for second down. Just because they got a TD doesn't mean it was the right play. I don't know what Mullens was thinking on his second interception.

Third & less than a yard to get a first down, here's a crazy idea, hand the ball off to your back who was having a career day with over 100 yards or give it to another hefty back like C.J. Ham instead of trying a tush push assisted by the smallest player on the field. O'Connell again tried to be cute with his play calling.

This team still hasn't learned that losing the turnover battle leads to losing games. They should never leave without points once they are inside the 30-yard line. The coach's last words to the QB in his helmet should be "Get rid of the ball if you don't see an open man." Another winnable game is lost!

— Eric Walker in Patchogue, New York

The second touchdown to Addison was a "no, no, no, um, yes" kind of play where Mullens was able to find a tight window.

It was Mullens' first start with an NFL team in nearly two years. Minnesota hopes to build on the positives, reduce the negatives and make a run at the playoffs.

Turnovers continue to be a factor for Minnesota. It seems like every time a ball is loose it winds up in the hands of an opponent, and likewise, when a foe coughs one up or throws an interception-worthy pass, the opponent keeps the pigskin.

The way the ball bounced before it was secured by Hill, as well as Cincinnati muffing and recovering the punt at the end of regulation when DJ Turner II was legally pushed into returner Charlie Jones by NaJee Thompson, are two more bad bounces added to the list. Instead of Thompson getting the ball, it bounced in a way that allowed Andrei Iosivas to recover at the Cincinnati 20-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. A fumble recovery by the Vikings at that point positions Minnesota for the game-winner.

I have been a Vikings fan since Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters, and I am about done. I am so tired of being disappointed from a lack of finishing. This last loss against the Bengals is a microcosm of those 50+ years. They just don't ever seem to get it done when it counts. They laid eggs in their four Super Bowls, gave away the 1998 NFC Championship Game, with probably their best ever team. Even [Brett] Favre succumbed to the curse. They can't put it all together at the same time.

I am a pretty positive guy, and I have always respected the organization. I have loved the players and most of the coaches, but I just can't take much more. They play solid defense for 90 percent of the game and then go to a soft prevent and allow teams to move down the field, mostly unimpeded. This is not new for the Vikings. I see other teams build dynasties and some just really great teams that finish what they start. But not the Vikings. They never finish it!!

— Rod in Champaign, Illinois

The 2022 team finished some of these close games better than the 2023 edition. "Finish" is the key word going forward with three games to play. We're well into the schedule's fourth quarter.

I just wanted to write in as a very frustrated fan. What is wrong with the play calling? It seems like O'Connell does great and then slows down! I wish we'd call more creative plays. Not necessarily funny, non-conventional plays but more variable basic plays. The fourth down in OT was a dumb play call by all accounts with so many other options. The Vikings are a good football team and put up 24 points even with many mistakes but poor offensive play calling is crippling this team.

— Quin from Minnesota

I guess there's the good of positioning the Vikings to score more than the 24 points they did, but then there's always a few calls every game that any play caller would like to have back (beyond the OT calls that we're getting to below).

Editor's Note: A high volume of questions and comments focused mostly on O'Connell's decision to go for a sneak with Mullens on third-and-inches and again on fourth-and-inches in overtime. I'm consolidating several perspectives (they aren't very divergent) and replying collectively.

If you didn't see the plays, the Vikings chose 11 personnel with three receivers in the game. They motioned Brandon Powell behind Mullens, who then took the snap and tried to advance the ball with only Powell pushing him. Powell's toughness exceeds his frame, but he also happens to be the third-lightest player on Minnesota's roster behind Addison and Mekhi Blackmon. Neither attempt worked, although it did seem like the third-down play was close. The surge by the Bengals on fourth down gave no hope.

I've been a loyal Vikings fan in Packers country since 1967, so I have had my share of frustrations watching them lose meaningful games in very painful ways. I was a head high school football coach for 27 years, and early in my career, a veteran coach told me, "If you have a horse, ride him." Being a longtime coach, I am not one to usually criticize coaching decisions, but the choice of two QB sneaks on the last overtime series baffles me. Ty Chandler and the O-line was your horse that day, and you didn't ride him. Also, if it didn't work on third down, why do the same thing on fourth? Even getting C.J. Ham in the game would have been a better option than Mullens sneaking.

— Barry Schmitt in Independence, Wisconsin

I have to blame this loss and likely not getting into the playoffs on the coaches. Why try twice to run at your weakest part of your offensive line, especially when your running back has done well? I've even got to question the defensive coaching with all the big plays in the fourth quarter and in overtime.

I still can't believe they decided Dobbs was the better choice after the bye. It will not surprise me if the Vikings lose the last three games. So disappointing!

— Dave in Sterling, Illinois

What on earth was KOC thinking when he called the EXACT SAME INEFFECTIVE play?

I like going for it on fourth down, but it is baffling why he did that.

I would have rather seen Ty Chandler get the ball twice or Addison on a jet sweep or a short pass to a TE.

Love O'Connell, but that is borderline unforgivable as a head coach.

Thank you,

— Richard

On our only chance with the ball in OT, O'Connell calls the same play twice!! After that, we deserved to lose. Turnovers did not matter. Defense gave up three consecutive TDs after shutting everyone down for 29 drives? With all that, those third- & fourth-down plays cost us this game. It's on O'Connell. And we just cannot win in Cincy. We don't deserve to make the playoffs.

— J.B. Brunet

Probably more than a few Viking fans that are really disappointed by the last two offensive plays called. Offensive is too kind a word. Many plays this season by the offense, defense and special teams that can be looked at as the reason why maybe no NFC North title, maybe even no playoff.

— Noel in Bayfield, Wisconsin

Two QB sneaks in a row; both had no chance. Ty Chandler is running the ball down their throats all game, but we don't go to him in the most critical point of the game. Once again, Kevin O'Connell falls on his face with horrible decisions at the most important times. This has been almost weekly all season. When will he learn?

— Roman in Grand Forks

Despite all that has happened, Minnesota remains in the driver's seat for controlling its own playoff destiny. That may or may not be of comfort to fans, given the turnovers and other mishaps that have resulted in losing games that were there for the taking.

Philadelphia's automatic success of the push play last year has led to many imitations around the league, but the Eagles have some personnel strengths that make that play so automatic for them.

The Bengals placement of a defensive tackle across from each of Garrett Bradbury's shoulders before the snap was successful, so it will be interesting to see if other teams mimic what Cincinnati did, regardless of the opponent's personnel grouping.

When I saw Powell go in motion, I thought, "Jet sweep to a player with fresh legs." But then he stopped behind Mullens. Chandler was lined up so far in the backfield that he couldn't make it to help push Mullens before the pile stacked up.

It also wasn't the first time we saw Minnesota use a similar pre-snap motion. On their opening drive, the Vikings were in a 22 personnel grouping (Ham and Chandler at running back and tight ends Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt) for a third-and-1. Ham motioned in to line up behind Mullens before the snap, but Mullens dropped back to pass as Chandler streaked into a voided area for a gain of 16 to set up his 1-yard touchdown run.

O'Connell was asked about the sequence after the game. He said he was told officials reviewed the spotting of the third-down play.

"If they told me they didn't look at it, I was going to take the timeout, but I was told that they did look at it. The guys upstairs were still saying it just would have come down to that point if there was the visual evidence. I think the guys up top were looking at their view of it looking down, and seeing Nick's second effort there, I started calling a first-and-10 play, but the side judge on the other side must have had him short."

Asked about then repeating the same call on fourth down, O'Connell said the following:

"I think anytime you're inside of a couple of feet, and then looking at about four or five inches there, we don't really want to have to turn around and extend the ball and hand off another ball. I trust our guys in that moment to execute with a push right there. Based on how well they were spotted, they got the stop and then transitioned that to an explosive [play] to give themselves a chance to win the game."