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Hockenson Breaks Rudolph's Vikings Tight Ends Record for Catches in a Season

LAS VEGAS — Some point after the season, T.J. Hockenson will allow himself to reflect on personal stats.

Until then, he's going to keep grinding and catching footballs.

It didn't matter in the fourth quarter Sunday that he was held to just one catch through three quarters; with the game on the line, Hockenson rallied with four receptions for 45 yards in Minnesota's 3-0 win.

Three of the receptions — his 83rd, 84th and 85th — of the season totaled 19 of the 56 yards the Vikings gained to set up Greg Joseph's 36-yard field goal with 1:57 remaining to improve to 7-6 on the season.  

In the process, Hockenson tied and then passed Kyle Rudolph's Vikings franchise record for catches by a tight end in one season. Rudolph recorded 83 in 16 games during the 2016 season to top a previous mark of 79 by Joe Senser in 1981.

"I don't really focus on individual accolades as much, especially during the season," Hockenson said. "After the season, you look at it, but to be up there with a guy like Kyle, obviously a legend in the Vikings building and as a Viking, so that means a lot to me, and I'm very grateful that I'm here and to be in Purple, so just to have my name next to a guy like Kyle is awesome."

Hockenson entered Minnesota's 13th game of 2023 leading NFL tight ends with 80 receptions and ranking second with 786 yards.

His first catch of the day on a throw from Joshua Dobbs gained 8 in the third quarter on Minnesota's sixth possession. But that drive ended with a punt just like eight of the first nine Vikings possessions.

Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell turned to Nick Mullens, who had not played in a game since the preseason and had returned from Injured Reserve last month, with 9:10 remaining.

The quarterback that Minnesota acquired after playing against Mullens in Las Vegas to open the 2022 preseason showed how he's continued to prepare for any opportunity along the way.

Even though the Vikings were without Justin Jefferson, Brian O'Neill and Alexander Mattison due to in-game injuries, Mullens was able to connect with enough receivers and protect the football to eke out the victory.

O'Connell showed his confidence in Mullens from the first play he called, a deep dropback, play-action pass that pushed the ball down the field to Hockenson for a gain of 26. The tight end secured the catch after it was deflected.

"I think all of us in that huddle and then you know, obviously, [O'Connell] and the coaching staff, have confidence in every single one of our quarterbacks," Hockenson said. "I mean, Nick, Josh and all of our guys. I mean, they don't have an issue putting some guys in there and throwing the ball.

"We've put it on tape, and so to be able to deliver that on time, you know, the guy kind of tipped it, but I was able to make a play," Hockenson said. "That just starts the drive and gets things going for us and gives him a little confidence, too, 1-for-1, you know? And then we could keep stacking it. So, definitely huge. I kind of saw it and was like, 'All right, here we go,' you know? I thought it would squeeze in between him, and then I saw him get his hand on it and popped up and I was like, 'All right, perfect.' "

Mullens finished 9-for-13 passing with 83 yards and a passer rating of 86.4, and it all began with Hockenson's 82nd of the season.

"Yeah, that was big. I'm sure you can attest the tipped ball a little bit to beginner's luck, but at the same time, I was just ready to play," Mullens said. "I was excited. I was glad to start off, I think that was the first play, with a pass. So might as well, if you're gonna go in, you might as well go in, you know? But it was fun. Like I said, 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."