Vikings eliminated from NFC Playoffs, finish 7-10 after 30-20 loss at Lions

Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings is tackled by Cameron Sutton #1 and Kerby Joseph #31 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at Ford Field on January 07, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan.  ((Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings entered Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field with about a three percent chance to make the NFC Playoffs.

They needed a win over the Lions, and a lot of help across the NFC. Tampa Bay shut out Carolina 9-0, and the New Orleans Saints routed the Atlanta Falcons 48-17, eliminating the Vikings regardless of their result against the Lions. That said, a 2023 season marred by injuries, turnovers and a rotation of inconsistent quarterback play ended in a 30-20 loss at Ford Field.

"We’ve got to look inward in how did things transpire differently this year, whether it be the turnovers, the inconsistencies in some areas of our team and ultimately the injuries. We’ll look at everything to make sure we’re building the right kind of team that can withstand some adversity throughout the year," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the loss.

The Vikings lost four straight games and six of their last seven to end the regular season after climbing out of a 1-4 hole to give themselves a chance. The Lions got out to a 13-6 lead with a pair of first quarter touchdowns. Jared Goff hit Sam LaPorta from three yards out, and Jahmyr Gibbs scored from 1-yard out.

The Lions made it 20-6 in the third quarter on David Montgomery’s 1-yard touchdown before the Vikings tried to make it interesting. Nick Mullens hit Justin Jefferson for a 38-yard touchdown to get Minnesota within 20-13. The Lions answered with Goff hitting Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 70-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Mullens then hit Jordan Addison for a 42-yard touchdown to get the Vikings within 27-20 with 13:22 to play. Detroit added a field goal for the final difference.

The three big positives for Minnesota on Sunday? Justin Jefferson had 12 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown, and notched his fourth straight 1,000-yard season to start his career, recording 1,074 receiving yards in just 10 games after missing seven with a hamstring injury. He joins a list that includes Michael Thomas, Mike Evans, A.J. Green and Randy Moss.

"It’s a tough season, it’s a tough game we play, but I’m always going to be there and try to give it my all. I’m always going to try to go out there and make as many plays, as many catches, as many touchdowns as I can to make my team win or put us in the best position possible," Jefferson said.

Danielle Hunter also recorded a sack, for a career-high 16.5 in a single season. Ty Chandler had 12 carries for 69 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, and could be the running back of the future.

The negatives? Nick Mullens was sacked four times, three by Aidan Hutchinson, and threw a pair of interceptions in the fourth quarter. The Vikings’ offensive line struggled with Brian O’Neill and Ed Ingram out with injuries. Minnesota was also 2-of-12 on third down. Mullens finished 30-of-44 for 396 yards and two touchdowns. He was emotional after the season-ending loss.

"It’s been a long ride, up and down. I love the Vikings, I love the team. Just like we were 1-4 and went 5-0 and your starter goes down and you’d love to say us quarterbacks, whoever was back there, led the team to the playoffs and that’s what we hoped for," Mullens said. "Didn’t get it done, but love the Vikings." 

The Vikings now shift into off-season mode, and have a lot of roster decisions to make with as many as 24 players becoming free agents. Among them is quarterback Kirk Cousins, and they also need to get a deal done with Jefferson, among others.

Minnesota finishes the season 7-10 and could have a top-10 pick in April’s NFL Draft. They finished last in the NFC North.