The Lions ran past the Vikings and won their first NFC division title in 30 years

Justin Jefferson ran 20 yards in three seconds on Sunday, a Nick Mullens fumble that would have otherwise sealed the Vikings' loss to the Lions with 1:48 remaining. Before the next play, Jefferson told Mullens, “Whatever it is, throw it away.” Mullens did what Kirk Cousins ​​did a year ago in Buffalo, and as the fifth-grader swiped a playground ball from a kindergartener, Jefferson stole the ball from two Lions defenders on third-and-27 for a 28-yard gain.

He handed the ball to the official and Mullens 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 made a double move on Lions safety Ifeed Melifonwu to break the kickoff and catch the pass to make Mullens the fourth different QB to start the Vikings. win this season.

In the 56 days since Cousins ​​tore his right Achilles tendon, the Vikings have at times looked as if they were holding the steering wheel of a car with misaligned tires, trying to keep it straight to avoid going into a ditch. Coach Kevin O'Connell talks Joshua Dobbs through his first photos in a Vikings uniform. Assistant QB coach Grant Udinsky was on the field after practice on Fridays for hours of walking with the new starters. On the day the Vikings pulled the caps for Mullens, defensive coordinator Brian Flores shut down a Raiders team that scored 63 points four days later.

In the Vikings' 30-24 loss to the Lions on Sunday, Mullens' pass fumbled behind Jefferson, who tried in vain to bring it down as Melifonwu came down with the Lions' fourth interception. The game sealed the Lions' first division title since winning the old NFC Central in 1993, ended the Vikings' six-game winning streak over Detroit at US Bank Stadium and ensured that their New Year's Eve game against the Packers would be their last. In this season. It led them down a path they had somehow managed to avoid for weeks.

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To reach the playoffs, they must play the Rams or Seahawks in the NFC standings, with Los Angeles or Seattle losing once by winning two games against Green Bay and Detroit. They have 3-4 Cousins ​​backup quarterbacks from injury; Now that he's not starting to walk, Cousins ​​returned to the sidelines with his teammates for the first time since surgery on Sunday.

Mullens became just the second quarterback in Vikings history to throw for 400 yards and four interceptions in a single game, a reminder of just how fleeting QB consistency can be.

“I think it shows the rest of the world what kind of player Kirk is,” Jefferson said. “At the end of the day, it's a tough league. You know, not everybody's cut out for this job. So it's hard not to. [No.] 8 Out, he's the captain, he's the leader. He is a great player. Nothing was taken from Nick. Nick is a great player. We only have to develop that faith that we have. We've got to go out on that practice field and make sure we're getting all the timing right, make sure the ball is where it's supposed to be.”

The Vikings allowed the Lions to hold the ball for 38:22, run for 143 yards and back up quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 30 of his 40 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown to break through a Flores-coached defense for the first time. profession. Carted off the field with a quadriceps injury, pass rusher T.J. The Vikings lost Wonnam and rookie cornerback McGee Blackmon, who failed to return from a shoulder injury. After Blackmon left and cornerback Aquilab Evans was ejected from the game, the Vikings finished the game with Andrew Booth Jr. and Jaylin Williams at cornerback.

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They blew two second-quarter calls — a rough-passer penalty on Patrick Jones on second-and-21, and a Goff fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass on review, which Camryn Bynum returned for an 82-yard touchdown. — which led to a 10-point swing.

“I wanted to hear it was an official's ruling and maybe I could have thrown the flag and challenged it,” O'Connell said. “The shots I've had don't necessarily see it the same way. I mean, when your defense has a turnover and scores seven points, that's speed in its purest form. Big speed plays.”

Turnovers by the Vikings were a central theme in their eighth loss, as they have been for many of their first seven.

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 a single game. He is the second Vikings quarterback with a questionable double since Warren Moon in a 31-21 loss to the Jets in November 1994.

“A lot of ball space [issues]. I believe I am a very accurate quarterback. I made a lot of good throws today,” Mullens said. “Finishes, accuracy, you have to be elite all the time. I did a good job of making plays and moving the offense, and we worked hard collectively to move the offense. But avoid those mistakes.

Rookie Brian Branch intercepts Jordan Addison at the Lions 20.

The Vikings used the same three-level route concept on the play that Mullens hit Jefferson on the final drive, O'Connell said. Late in the second quarter, Mullens failed to put the ball near the Vikings' sideline and lost a spot for a big completion. Addison injured his ankle when Joseph collided with a teammate on an interception return.

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“We're trying to use a deep defender and use the grass we have to be able to drive it away from the defender,” O'Connell said. “[Joseph] Come back and Jordan was able to narrow down his return to football. Usually when it's safe, it means we've got the ball flat and away from the defender.”

The turnover led to a Lions touchdown that made Detroit 17-7 less than two minutes into halftime. The Vikings scored before the half, and Mullens took the lead on a cleverly-designed play where Mullens found KJ Osborne in the back corner of the end zone when Mullens threw a diving catch from Jefferson in the 20-yard pocket on a 20-yard pass. for a six-yard score after halftime.

Then, after the Lions built a nine-point lead on a pair of bruising drives that took 14:12 off the clock in the second half, the Vikings pulled within six on a 75-yard drive by Greg Joseph for a field goal. They survived a defensive hold on Williams that his teammates believed shouldn't have been called, and were held off by a tired defense that lost Wonnam and Blackmon.

It sets them up to get the win they need to answer the Seahawks and take back control of their own future.

Instead, Jefferson knelt on the US Bank Stadium turf and held his breath in frustration after the final pass officially sent the Vikings on a detour.

“We knew it was going to be a tough stretch. We knew it wasn't going to be easy,” he said. “This team is a great team. They're not a sloppy team. And they have the division crown for a reason. We've got to catch up and realize the things we need to fix.”

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