4 Items Learned about Vikings in Week 15 Loss
It was a heartbreaking loss in overtime when kicker Evan McPherson hit the game-winning field goal, earning his team an 8-6 record while the Vikings are stuck at 7-7. Seattle’s upset over the Philadelphia Eagles only complicated Minnesota’s playoff chances in the second season under the watch of head coach Kevin O’Connell.
4 Items Learned about Vikings in Week 15 Loss
It was the first game with Nick Mullens starting at quarterback and the second time Justin Jefferson has been playing since overcoming his hamstring injury. The Vikes hoped for a different result, but there were still some things to like.
1. Nick Mullens Is QB1
Mullens became the fourth starter under center for the purple team in 2023, and he did a good job for the most part. Besides a couple of sinful interceptions, Mullens had a fantastic day, throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
The veteran backup led an efficient offensive attack and was a clear upgrade over previous starter Joshua Dobbs. O’Connell’s offense is built around the premise that the passer can utilize the multitude of talented playmakers, and that’s what Mullens does better than Dobbs. Jefferson, Jordan Addison, and T.J. Hockenson combined for over 250 yards and two touchdowns.
Of course, the two turnovers were unacceptable, and turning one of those plays into a field goal might have won the Vikings the game, but he still guided his attack to 24 points, and the offense even managed to score on a potential game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The mistakes and occasional turnovers are part of his game. He is not scared to throw into tight windows and has some of Brett Favre’s gunslinger mentality, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Still, he has done enough to earn the trust of his coaches and deserves the chance to lead the franchise into the playoffs.
As long as he isn’t asked to operate a tush push, the Vikings are still in good hands for a team without its starting QB.
2. Ty Chandler Breakout Game
The dysfunctional running game has been a problem for the Vikings all season. It has been improving in recent games but still hasn’t been at the desired level when featuring a backup quarterback. Alexander Mattison started in the first 13 games, but he missed this one with an ankle injury.
Enter Ty Chandler, a sophomore running back. Without any other serious candidates for carries (the only active rushers were Kene Nwanwgu and Myles Gaskin), the Vikings were forced to unleash their speedster. And it was wonderful.
Chandler rushed for 132 yards, making his case for more touches in the future. It was the first 100-yard rushing game of any Vikings player this season. His burst can make a difference, and he didn’t showcase any flaws that should keep him on the sideline for an extended period in the season’s final three games.
3. The Defense Is Good, but Not Elite
The defense entered elite territory in many metrics in the last few weeks. Brian Flores has done an outstanding job of turning around the horrendous unit from a year ago almost immediately, and it become the strong suit of the 2023 team, especially with Cousins on IR.
And indeed, it was fantastic. Entering the final quarter in Cincinnati, the Vikings had not allowed a touchdown in 11 straight quarters. But the unit completely imploded in that final period, allowing the Bengals to erase a 14-point deficit and an additional seven-point deficit. All within 15 minutes.
In overtime, the defense made one stop, the offense failed to close out the game, and the defense couldn’t force another punt. That wouldn’t have been necessary had they made a single stop in the fourth quarter.
Great defenses make stops when a stop is required. And the Flores’ defense, although playing excellently for the majority of the season, allowed a game-winning drive in three of the last four games. His unit is good and certainly way better than expected, but not great.
4. The Receiving Corps and Core Is Great
Jefferson’s hamstring injury cost the fanbase seven games of Addison and Jefferson carving up defensive backs next to each other. It is fun to watch Addison’s growth, a player who is slowly becoming one of the most dangerous playmakers in the NFL.
Whenever a QB is in trouble but desperately needs a first down, he should just heave it to his top receiver; he will make a play. At least in theory. Well, Jefferson certainly is that guy, but so is the rookie. Mullens was in trouble twice; he threw it to the first-rounder twice, and he scored twice. Having two such playmakers on one team is rare.
Jefferson is 24, and Addison is 21. Paired with 26-year-old tight end T.J. Hockenson, the Vikings are set up for years with fantastic weapons, regardless of the quarterback. The franchise is set up to be a dream destination for potential rookie quarterbacks.
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Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt