Vikings beat Raiders 3-0 despite Jefferson injury, Dobbs getting benched

Mekhi Blackmon #5 of the Minnesota Vikings reacts with teammates after recovering a fumble during the second half of the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium on December 10, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  ((Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images))

It was some of the ugliest football you’ll ever watch, but the Minnesota Vikings are 7-6 and snapped a two-game losing streak coming out of their bye after a 3-0 win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

It’s Minnesota’s first shutout victory since 2017, and second in 30 years. The Vikings and Raiders were in a scoreless tie for 58 minutes, 3 seconds, the longest such stretch since Week 12 of 2007. Kevin O’Connell benched Joshua Dobbs with about nine minutes to play. Nick Mullens led the game’s only scoring drive, capped by Greg Joseph’s game-winning 36-yard field goal with 1:57 to play.

It's the lowest-scoring indoor game in NFL history, and Kevin O'Connell became the fastest coach in Vikings' history to win 20 games, doing it in 30. That surpasses Dennis Green, who did it in 32 games.

"To come away with a win when we’ve got a lot to work through offensively, to come away with our seventh win, get back above .500 and have a chance here down the stretch is all you can ask for," O'Connell said after the win.

Brian Flores shut out the Raiders, and Ivan Pace Jr. led the defense with 13 tackles, a sack and a game-sealing interception. Pace signed with the Vikings as an undrafted free agent, and is now the leader of the defense with Jordan Hicks on injured reserve. Josh Metellus also forced a Raiders’ fumble that Mekhi Blackmon recovered. The Vikings got four sacks in total on the day, from Pace, Troy Dye, Harrison Phillips and D.J. Wonnum.

They limited the Raiders to 202 total yards, 3-of-14 on third down and forced two turnovers.

"Flo and his staff continue to do a great job over there not worrying at all about anything else than doing their job. We really leaned on them, and I thought they were huge and just gave us a chance," O'Connell said.

The other major story line of Sunday’s win? Justin Jefferson with an early exit. He returned for the first time since Week 5 and got three targets. He made two catches for 27 yards, and left the game midway through the second quarter after taking a hard hit from former teammate Marcus Epps after a 15-yard gain.

Jefferson went to the medical tent and eventually the locker room before being ruled out with a chest injury. He was taken to a Las Vegas hospital as a precaution, but is flying home with the team.

"Incredibly disappointed for him, just knowing how much it means to him to get back out on the field. Justin means the world to this team," O'Connell said. "I feel pretty encouraged about the early news on Justin."

Earlier this week, O’Connell named Dobbs his starter after throwing four interceptions against the Chicago Bears two weeks ago. Sunday? Dobbs was 10-of-23 for 63 yards and was sacked five times. O’Connell pulled Dobbs with 9 minutes, 10 seconds to play, and Mullens hit T.J. Hockenson on his first pass for 26 yards after a deflection.

"Ultimately we got the win, that’s really all that matters in this league. He (Mullens) did a tremendous job coming in and giving us a chance to win. That’s ultimately all that matters at the end of the day," Dobbs said. "I can be frustrated with my play, I can be frustrated with the situation but I’m happy we won."

The Vikings managed just 226 total yards, and the passing game struggled with Ed Ingram out, and losing Brian O’Neill to an ankle injury. Minnesota also lost Alexander Mattison to an ankle injury, and Jalen Nailor to the concussion protocol. The Vikings and Raiders combined for 17 punts.

Mullens went 9-of-13 for 83 yards, and looked ready for his number to be called when the Vikings needed him the most. If Sunday is any indication, Mullens is the quarterback going forward.

"You obviously never know when your name is going to be called, but you just prepare and work as hard as you can and trust that there’s plan out there for you," Mullens said. "I told them I know it’s been a hard day, but I need your best. It was only a field goal, but sometimes that’s all it takes. Doesn’t matter what it looks like, a win is a win."

O'Connell wouldn't commit to Mullens or Dobbs as the starter next Saturday at Cincinnati. He had a discussion with Dobbs before benching him.

"It’s difficult, I always want to communicate and be honest. I just said at this point in time, I want to give Nick a chance to get in there. We’ll take a look at it, I don’t want to get into declare anything for next week right now," O'Connell said. "We’re a week-to-week offense at this point."

The Vikings are 7-6, and two games behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC North Division with four games to play. Two of those are against the Lions.