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A 2023 season of being too close for comfort in every direction continued in the wrong way for the Vikings on Sunday.
Minnesota fell 30-24 to Detroit as the Lions claimed the NFC North with two weeks to play in the regular season.
The Vikings (7-8) played in their 15th one-score game of the season. Minnesota: made some explosive plays but offered up four interceptions on offense; allowed an opening-game touchdown drive and was unable to consistently shutdown the Lions before making a late stop; and yet still had a chance in a game that was critical to the team's goals for the season.
Minnesota endured injuries to outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon, as well as tight end T.J. Hockenson and rookie receiver Jordan Addison that forced each player to leave the game early.
They'll undergo more evaluation this week.
Not the holiday wish many in Minnesota and beyond were looking for, and there wasn't much help to go around the NFL to benefit the Vikings playoff chances, either.
Going to do a shorter version of the Mailbag for today and then have more fans' comments in Rehash on Tuesday.
Happy and safe holidays to the Vikings Mailbag community.
Vikings make a nice effort offensively, but the defense didn't make plays when they needed to; allowing the Lions multiple sustained scoring drives. Poorest throwing decision of the season by Mullens on the [first-and-10] interception with 58 seconds left — you don't force that? Well, there is always next season. Below are my 3 Ups and 3 Downs for the game:
- Beautiful opening drive by the Vikings offense for an answering TD. Nicely done.
- Vikings third-and-19 conversion in the 2-minute drill of the first half, then a TD throw from Mullins scrambling right to Jefferson. Wow.
- Vikings open the second half with a nice TD drive to take the lead. Too bad the defense wasn't good enough to hold it.
- Opening Lions drive. Vikings defense allows multiple third-down conversions, allows the Lions to overcome multiple penalties, can't finish sack opportunities, multiple missed tackles that mattered, and gives up a sustained 7-plus-minute TD drive to open the game. A huge underperformance by the Vikings defense.
- Another dumb penalty on a Vikings kickoff return. If the Vikings cannot execute kickoff returns without a penalty, they should simply stop attempting to do them at all. Undisciplined and careless play at best.
- Vikings defensive performance on third and fourth downs was weak. I expected so much more from them in getting off the field and when the game was on the line.
I think we just gave away our seventh seed to the Seahawks. Sad. I sure wish the Packers game meant something.
— Jeff L.
For the second consecutive week, the Vikings offense opened a game with an impressive touchdown drive. It was a nice answer to Detroit's 14-play, 75-yarder that lasted 7:47.
Ty Chandler scored on a 2-yard run to finish a possession that began with a simple delayed pass to tight end Josh Oliver for a gain of 33 yards.
Minnesota's defense could have helped itself a bit more on the opening possession but allowed an 11-yard pass on second-and-12 to set up a 4-yard run.
The throw-and-catch by Nick Mullens to Justin Jefferson on the third-and-19 moved the ball to the Detroit 26 and enabled Mullens to reconnect with Jefferson for a 26-yard touchdown just before halftime.
The impressive score was Jefferson's 29th receiving touchdown, which moved him past Vikings Ring of Honor tight end Steve Jordan for sole possession of 10th in franchise history.
The Lions went 6-for-12 on third down for the game and converted two fourth-and-1s during their 13-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 7:18 of the third quarter and put Detroit up 23-21 with 4:38 left in the period.
Seattle's back-to-back wins secured inside the final moments of games against the Eagles (last Monday) and at the Titans (Sunday) moved the Seahawks to the No. 7 spot, one ahead of the Vikings.
I can't say how much [Defensive Coordinator Brian] Flores has done for our defense; man down culture!
Seems [Nick] Mullens is a turnover machine just like [Joshua] Dobbs; are we finally going to give the rookie QB (Jaren Hall) a chance? Better analyze our talent before we go into the offseason and draft. Realized our season is over, so might as well start looking into the future. Even if we win the next two games, Mullens will turn it over. Two games worth of data prove it's a fact.
We are losing so many great players to free agency, and it would be a shame to throw money away to Kirk [Cousins] if we can't keep talent around due to cap issues.
Kirk is great, but we have not signed J.J. (Justin Jefferson) to a contract [extension]. The more we wait, the more I can't blame him for not signing back.
— Jose Quiroz
It's been a steady beat of the SKOL Drum this season about the importance of protecting the football.
Minnesota is 17-0 under Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell when the turnover margin is neutral or in the Vikings favor and 3-12 when losing the turnover margin in 32 regular-season games.
Mullens threw for 411 yards, but he was left lamenting inaccurate placement on a couple of passes. His final attempt was a deep heave toward Jefferson, but it fluttered enough to allow Ifeatu Melifonwu to undercut the route.
There will be plenty of time once the season ends to cover Minnesota's plans for free agency (re-signings or new acquisitions) before March.
Cousins is in the final year of his contract, but there will be dialogue between him and the team.
Jefferson will be on the fifth-year team option of his rookie contract next season. The Vikings have said they plan for him to be with the team in the long term.
I hope our coaches realize that they can do 8-15-yard passes, too. Always letting Mullens make the long throw is not smart because he doesn't have the laser accuracy that Kirk does. Shorter passes can move the chains and have an increased catch percentage.
Please be smarter with these calls and protect Mullens from himself and his slinging mentality. Look at how the Lions won — they used a lot of 20-yard or less plays and a few longer ones.
Please be smarter with some of these calls. You let Mullens throw away the game because he can't decide when not to throw it if the coverage is tight. Mullens can win but he needs to be managed better.
— Dan Price in Kokomo, Indiana
In a way, the ending of Sunday's game felt a little like déjà vu from Week 10 when the Vikings were able to close out New Orleans with a pick on a deep heave by Jameis Winston, who had entered the game in relief of Derek Carr.
Much like Mullens, Winston had made some plays to give the Saints a chance to tie the game, but opted for a deep shot that didn't have to happen at that moment.
The Vikings had to go into comeback mode, particularly late, versus the Lions being able to try to manage their lead, thanks to a pair of touchdown drives that bookended a three-and-out by Minnesota in the third quarter.
It's tough to win in the NFL when you don't have a QB. I said earlier that I thought Nick gave us the best chance to win, and clearly I was wrong. Let Jaren finish the season and let's see what we got. Boy do I miss Kirk. I only hope we figure out our QB situation, or we're going to lose J.J. Justin is a special player who only wants to win. We keep playing like this, and J.J.'s moving on. We're not good enough to make the playoffs.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
— J.B. Brunet
The explosive gains by the offense, which included passes of 47, 33, 29, two of 28 and two of 26, show that Mullens has the ability to move the team in this offense.
Minnesota racked up 411 passing yards on 22 completions, but the risk-reward factor plays a role in outcomes of games.
The Vikings failed to get anything going in the ground game, "rushing" a total of 11 times for 17 yards, which included a gain of 1 on Mullens' only carry.
Coming off 132 yards at Cincinnati, Chandler was limited to 17 yards on eight carries, and Alexander Mattison's only two rushes of the game netted minus-1 yard.
We'll see what O'Connell plans to do this week when Minnesota closes its home slate against Green Bay (7-8) on Sunday Night Football and then in Week 18 at Detroit, which could involve the Lions resting multiple players if their playoff spot winds up not being affected by that outcome.