EAGAN, Minn. – Nick Mullens showed great command of the huddle at Las Vegas, and the Vikings are asking him to do it again this week.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell on Tuesday named Mullens the team's starting quarterback for Saturday's contest against the Bengals.
"We've made the decision to start Nick Mullens this week," O'Connell said. "Thought he came into the game [Sunday] and really demonstrated his ability to prepare and be ready to go in and play in rhythm. Was accurate with the ball, made great decisions."
This will mark the fourth quarterback the Vikings have started this season.
Mullens played two series for Minnesota Sunday after O'Connell opted to sub him in for Joshua Dobbs with 9:10 remaining.
Three-plus quarters had passed without a score by either team, but Mullens helped the Vikings leave Vegas after winning 3-0, the lowest-scoring NFL game since 2007 and lowest-scoring indoor game of all-time.
O'Connell noted he believes Mullens provides the best chance for success going into Cincinnati.
"Where we're at as an offense right now, it's about our execution with all 11 guys, and Nick's comfort in our system – a lot of time on task logged in our offense – I think will be a bonus for us to continue to hunt improvement coming off last week and try to go be as efficient as we possibly can," O'Connell said. "It's been great to see him. He's healthy now, we've been able to have him work through the low back injury, and he feels really, really good. He feels ready to go, which was a huge part of this decision."
Minnesota first acquired Mullens via trade August 2022 after playing against him in the preseason.
The 28-year-old originally had backed up Kirk Cousins but was on Injured Reserve when Cousins suffered a season-ending Achilles tear at Green Bay.
"There's a reason we went out and got Nick when we did, to really solidify that position. Anytime we're going out to try to find a quarterback that you feel like, when he's one snap away, can win you some football games, you look for certain traits. Nick has them all," O'Connell said. "Love everything about his preparation. He allows us to prepare with a plan and doesn't need a whole lot of reps to then go out and execute that plan. Between where he's at from a physical standpoint and health-wise, some of the things he was able to get in and do the other day, I think we're all really excited to see what Nick can do with a week of preparation. Even on a short week.
"I think Nick's going to have a great opportunity," O'Connell added. "A tough challenge, road game, did some very nice things coming into the game the other day in that fourth quarter to help us solidify a chance to win it."
Vikings left guard Dalton Risner spoke with media members Tuesday and recounted Mullens' keyed-up but confident demeanor in the huddle.
"Our fans travel very, very well, so it wasn't the loudest away game we've been at, but Mullens hadn't been in yet. So when he gets in that game, he is screaming. He is screaming the play calls," Risner said, chuckling. "As an offensive line, we start seeing [Maxx] Crosby and [Raiders defenders] start to move in and listen, so we're like, 'Mullens,' and he's like, 'Oh.' You could tell we caught him off guard. He's like, 'Oh, OK. All right. I'll slow down. I'll calm down.' We're like, 'Hey, we love the enthusiasm.'
"He was just amped up, ready to go. He just came in right away like he's been doing it all year. I mean, between that and how loud he was in commanding the huddle," Risner continued. "He's walking out and he's like, 'I need two things. I need two things from you guys – I need urgency and focus. I know it's been a long day. I know it's been a grind. I know it's been crazy out here.' Kudos to him, bro. He easily could have come out and had head down, melancholy, quiet. Moment could have been too big for him, worried. But he came in there and commanded that sucker, and he helped us 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.
Hockenson referenced experience for Mullens, who is in his sixth pro season and has 17 NFL starts under his belt.
"He's been in this league for a long time and has done a lot of things in this league, so him just coming in and dropping back and throwing the pass, obviously it was completed, so that was huge for the whole team," Hockenson said. "Getting some confidence, getting some momentum rolling through the last couple of drives to be able to go down and score at least three points and end the game, so that was big for Nick and big for the team."
Mullens ultimately finished his outing 9-of-13 passing for 83 yards with a passer rating of 86.4.
"It was fun. Our group is so good," Mullens said. "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."
If you're around Mullens off the field, you'll realize he doesn't say a whole lot.
Even Risner, whose locker is adjacent to the QB's, knows he isn't exactly a chatterbox. But that reserved nature completely disappeared when he stepped foot on the field.
"He's very quiet. He's not a guy that wants the attention," Risner said. "He's just a good dude. He comes in here day-in and day-out, works his butt off, and at the same time, getting to know him, you just know him by who he is. You're like, 'I know when he gets his shot, he's ready to go.' He might be quiet, but he's in that playbook, he's watching, he's very intentional and he's very intellectual. So it didn't surprise me the way he came in like he did."
Mullens will look to lead the Vikings to another road win and over another team relying on a backup quarterback.
Minnesota is facing Cincinnati, which is leaning on former Vikings QB Jake Browning. And while the matchup isn't within the conference, the Minnesota needs every win it can get in a close postseason race – to further capitalize after the Lions (9-4) and Packers (6-7) lost to the Bears and Giants, respectively, this past weekend.
O'Connell said the coaching staff is "still working through" which quarterback will back up Mullens this weekend. It could be Dobbs or rookie Jaren Hall, who played a half at Atlanta before suffering a concussion.
"We'll have all three players in uniform, but we're working through exactly what that will look like, as far as the backup and emergency third quarterback," O'Connell said. "I can update you guys on that a little bit later in the week."
After playing the Bengals, the Vikings will host the Lions, host the Packers and visit the Lions for the season's final regular-season games.
"Each one is huge," Risner said. "It's anyone's ball game at this point, so we've gotta put our foot on the gas pedal and empty the tanks."