Lions overtake Vikings, capture first NFC division title in 30 years

Justin Jefferson sprinted 20 yards in three seconds on Sunday, diving on a Nick Mullins fumble that would have set up the Vikings' loss to the Lions with 1:48 left. In the huddle before the next play, Jefferson told Mullens: “No matter what it is, just throw it out.” Mullens did as Kirk Cousins ​​did a year ago in Buffalo, and Jefferson stole the ball from two Lions defenders for a 28-yard gain on third-and-27 with the same ease as a fifth-grader could swipe a ball down the field from a kindergartner.

He handed the ball to an official and Mullins hit Brandon Powell for 26 on the next play. With the Vikings down by six points and the ball 30 yards from the end zone, Jefferson pulled a double move on Lions safety Ifeatu Melifonwu and broke open where it looked like he might catch the pass to make Mullens the fourth different QB to start the Vikings' win this season.

It has seemed at times, in the 56 days since Cousins ​​tore his right Achilles tendon, as if the Vikings had firmly braced the steering wheel on a car with runaway tires, keeping it straight enough to avoid drifting into the ditch. Coach Kevin O'Connell spoke with Joshua Dobbs during his first snaps in a Vikings uniform. Assistant QB coach Grant Udinsky stayed on the field after practice Friday for long hours with the new starters. On the day the Vikings traded Dobbs for Mullins, defensive coordinator Brian Flores directed a shutout of a Raiders team that scored 63 points four days later.

The Vikings' 30-24 loss to the Lions on Sunday ended with Mullins' pass flapping past Jefferson, who tried in vain to cut it short when Melifono went down with the Lions' fourth interception of the day. The game clinched the Lions' first division title since they won the old NFC Central title in 1993, ended the Vikings' six-game winning streak over Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium and ensured that their New Year's Eve game against the Packers would be their last at home. this chapter. It also set them on a path they had somehow managed to avoid for weeks.

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To reach the playoffs, they would need to get within a game of the Rams or Seahawks in the NFC standings, likely by winning two games against Green Bay and Detroit while losing one to Los Angeles or Seattle. They are 3-4 with backup quarterbacks since Cousins' injury. Now out of his walking boot, Cousins ​​is back on the sideline with his teammates for the first time since his surgery on Sunday.

It saw Mullins become just the second quarterback in Vikings history to throw for 400 yards and four interceptions in the same game, leaving as a reminder how quickly a QB can settle down.

“I really think this will show the rest of the world what type of player Kirk is,” Jefferson said. “At the end of the day, this is a tough role. You know, not everyone is cut out for this job. So it's hard not to be there.” [No.] 8 There, captain, commander. He is a great player. Nothing taken from Nick. Nick is an outstanding player as well. We just need to build on that confidence that we have. “We just need to go on the training pitch and make sure we get the timing right, make sure the ball is where it needs to be.”

The Vikings allowed the Lions to hold the ball for 38:22, running for 143 yards and backing up quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 30 of his 40 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown to overpower the Flores-coached defense for the first time in his career. Professional life. The Vikings lost pass rusher DJ Wonnum, who was taken off the field with a quadriceps injury, and rookie linebacker Mekhi Blackmon, who tried to return from a shoulder injury to no avail. The Vikings finished the game with Andrew Booth Jr. and Jaylen Williams at cornerback, after left tackle Blackmon and cornerback Akayleb Evans were taken out of the game.

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They were involved in two calls in the second quarter — a roughing-the-yard penalty on Patrick Jones on second-and-21, and a Goff fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass on review after Camryn Bynum returned it for an 82-yard touchdown — that led to a 10-point swing.

“I would have liked to hear it was an official ruling and maybe I could have thrown the flag and taken the challenge,” O'Connell said. “The opinions I had I didn't necessarily see it the same way. I mean that momentum is in its purest form when your defense can create a turnover and get seven points out of it. Huge momentum plays.”

The Vikings' turnovers were a major theme of their eighth loss, as they were in many of their first seven losses.

On offense, Mullens became the 16th quarterback in NFL history, and the first since Jameis Winston in 2019, to throw for 400 yards and four interceptions in the same game. He was only the second Vikings quarterback to accomplish a questionable double, after Warren Moon did it in a 31-21 loss to the Jets in November 1994.

“A lot of ball placement [issues]. I think I'm a very accurate midfielder. “I made a lot of good throws today,” Mullins said. “The decisions and accuracy, you have to be elite at all times. I did a good job of making plays and moving the offense, and we worked hard collectively to move the offense. But you have to avoid those mistakes.”

Rookie Brian Branch picked off Jordan Addison at the Lions' 20 for the first interception of the day, and safety Kirby Joseph picked off a pass thrown by Mullins near midfield when he targeted Addison late in the second quarter.

O'Connell said the Vikings used the same three-level route concept on the play where Mullins hit Jefferson on the final drive. However, at the end of the second quarter, Mullens missed space for a big completion when he failed to get the ball closer to the Vikings' sideline. Addison injured his ankle when he collided with a teammate on Joseph's interception return.

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“We're just trying to take advantage of the deep defender and use the turf we have available to keep it away from the defender,” O'Connell said. “[Joseph] He was able to come back and undermine Jordan's return to football. “Normally when it comes to safety, that means we probably could have gotten the ball away from the defender.”

The turnover led to a Lions touchdown making it 17-7 Detroit with less than two minutes left in the first half. The Vikings scored before halftime, after Jefferson caught a 20-yard pass thrown by Mullins after stepping up in the pocket, and took the lead on a brilliantly designed play as Mullins found KJ Osborne in the back corner of the end zone. For a six-yard score after halftime.

Then, after the Lions had taken a nine-point lead on a pair of agonizing drives that took a combined 14:12 of the second-half clock, the Vikings pulled within six points on a 75-yard drive for Greg Joseph to kick a field goal. They survived a defensive foul on Williams that his teammates thought shouldn't have been called, and were coaxed into making stops from a tired defense that lost Wonnum and Blackmon.

This set them up to get the win they needed to answer the Seahawks and take control of their future again.

Instead, Jefferson knelt on the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium, catching his breath dejectedly after the final pass that officially put the Vikings on their way to the corner.

“We knew it was a difficult period. We knew it wouldn't be easy,” he said. “This team is a great team. They're not a weak team. They hold the division title for a reason. We just need to stick with this and realize the things we need to fix.”

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