Vikings’ season of upheaval at quarterback ends with a 7-10 record

Published 5:39 pm Sunday, January 7, 2024

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DETROIT — The emotion of a frustrating season prompted Nick Mullens to take a deep breath before answering a question on Sunday.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “This sucks.”

Mullens and the Minnesota Vikings had just lost 30-20 to the Detroit Lions, eliminating them from the playoffs and ending a 7-10 season. It was his third loss in as many starts as the Vikings tried and failed to find a replacement for Kirk Cousins, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a win at Green Bay on Oct. 29.

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The Vikings won that game to improve to 4-4. Mullens, Joshua Dobbs (2-2 as a starter) and Jaren Hall (1-1) couldn’t get the defending NFC North champions back into the postseason.

“We can’t sit back and say ‘Well, we didn’t have Kirk, so this is what happens,’” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said. “We have to take a really hard look at what happens when we don’t have our starting quarterback. We need to adjust better and play a little bit more complementary football.”

Mullens said all three backups felt like they should have done more.

“When the starter goes down, we want to go back there and lead the team to playoffs — that’s what we hope for,” he said. “We didn’t get it done, and that’s emotional. We love the Vikings and we didn’t get them there.”

Mullens completed 30 of 44 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns, but two late interceptions ruined any chance of a late rally against Detroit.

“I thought I did a lot of good things out there today, but I also did some things that weren’t great,” he said. “There are a lot of plays in a football game, and the goal is to have as many successful plays as possible. I thought we had a lot of successful plays, but those two at the end took the game away from us.”

Mullens put up big numbers against the Lions in Weeks 16 and 18, completing 52 of 80 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns, but his six interceptions and eight sacks played a huge role in a 30-24 home loss and the 10-point defeat in Detroit.

In five appearances, Mullens showed a big arm — his average completion went for 13.1 yards — and he threw seven touchdown passes in only 148 attempts. But he threw eight interceptions and was sacked 12 times.

“How did my season go? That’s a question that can go in a lot of different directions,” he said. “I did a lot of really good things and we were competitive in every ballgame, but at some point, you have to get the job done.

“All I can do is go out and do my best to lead a team — everything after that is someone else’s decision.”

Some of those decisions will be made by O’Connell, who has a lot to examine after his team went from a division title to a losing record.

“We have to evaluate every facet of how we put things together,” he said. “These two years couldn’t have any more different, and we have to look at each and every reason — the adversity, the injuries, the inconsistency.

“All of it.”