MINNEAPOLIS – In a game fitting of the 2023 season, Minnesota played two quarterbacks in an attempt to get back to a .500 record and increase its playoff chances.
But neither starter Jaren Hall – nor his second-half replacement Nick Mullens – could spark a Vikings offense that netted a season-low 211 total yards.
As the offense sputtered for 60 minutes, the Vikings defense allowed Packers quarterback Jordan Love to throw total a career-high four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), and Minnesota lost 33-10 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. With the loss, the Vikings (7-9) fell to 10th in the NFC, while Green Bay (8-8) jumped up to the final Wild Card spot (seventh) with one week remaining in the regular season.
The Vikings, however, are not eliminated from playoff contention. But they need a win next week at Detroit and a lot of help around the league to qualify.
"Really not much to say other than we got outplayed … –I've got to do a much better job, clearly, preparing our team," Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "Regardless of circumstance, we have to play better than we just did. I didn't think it was an effort thing. I think our guys came out with a lot of energy. Just was a combination of a lot of things."
Minnesota scored its lone touchdown a minute into the fourth quarter after special teams ace NaJee Thompson recovered a muffed Packers punt on the Packers 7-yard line. Thompson beat his blocker down the field from the gunner position and met Packers returner Samori Toure just as he fielded the ball. But Toure dropped it, and Thompson immediately fell on the ball.
Two plays later, Mullens connected with tight end Johnny Mundt for a 6-yard touchdown, which cut the Packers lead down to 20 with 14:06 to play. But Green Bay milked nearly eight minutes off the clock on their following possession, capped by a 37-yard Anders Carlson field goal. Minnesota only had the ball once more and reached the Green Bay 10 before turning it over on downs.
"Whenever your name is called you have a job to do and you do it your best and try to get it done," Mullens said. "[I was just] trying to stay in the moment, encourage the guys, get completions and move the ball, and hopefully provide some hope. Obviously, we didn't complete the comeback."
Mundt had a season-high performance starting in place of the injured T.J. Hockenson, who was placed on Injured Reserve this week following an ACL and MCL injury versus the Lions. Mundt finished with four catches for 39 yards and his second-career touchdown.
Mullens to Mundt was the high point of a New Year's Eve night that did not go the Vikings way.
O'Connell named Hall the starter ahead of the critical game against the Packers. But two first-half giveaways (one interception, one fumble), and just three points resulted in O'Connell reverting back to Mullens to start the second half. Mullens and Hall combined for 18-of-32 passing for 180 yards.
"You play that poorly, then that is what is going to happen. There is no frustration in the decision. You've got to do what's best for the team, and I wasn't giving us a chance," Hall said. "If I was a coach, I'd make the same decision."
Both Mullens and Hall completed passes to receiver Justin Jefferson. The star receiver led all Vikings pass catchers with 59 yards on five catches.
Minnesota had opportunities against a Packers secondary playing without its top cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes. Earlier in the week, Green Bay suspended Alexander for one game for "conduct detrimental to the team." Stokes is dealing with a hamstring injury and was placed on Injured Reserve on Saturday.
But Packers Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry had a plan to protect a young cornerbacks group that included multiple rookies. The Packers blitzed the Vikings often on second and third downs, peppering Mullens and Hall for a combined 14 quarterback hits and four sacks.
The Packers defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 29.3 points and 404 total yards over the past three games. But the Vikings couldn't find similar success.
"I'm gonna go to work. And I know everyone in this locker room will do the same so there's no question about that," guard Dalton Risner said. "That's what you have to do. Can't tuck tail and run. There are two types of people in this life. Tuck tail and run, or put your chin up and go to work, and I know that's what I'm gonna do. And that's what this locker room is going to do."