Vikings playoff hopes take big blow after 30-24 Christmas Eve loss to Lions

Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings argues the call against line judge Brian Bolinger #40 during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 24, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  ((Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings have a hole to climb out of with two regular season games to play if they intend to be in the NFC Playoffs for the second straight year.

In front of a sellout crowd on Christmas Eve at U.S. Bank Stadium decked out in mostly white, the Vikings got decimated by injuries in a 30-24 loss to the Lions. Detroit won its first division title in 30 years, and Minnesota now needs to win its last two games and get some help to reach the postseason for the second straight year under Kevin O’Connell. The Vikings fall to 7-8, they've lost four of their last five and are 3-4 since Kirk Cousins went down with an Achilles injury, shuffling through three other quarterbacks in the process.

"I thought our guys battled and left everything absolutely out there. Hard-fought football game and very much a tough feeling in that locker room right now," O'Connell said after the loss.

Nick Mullens nearly pulled off an improbable comeback as the Vikings trailed in the final minute. They needed 88 yards to win the game, and Mullens got them to the Detroit 30-yard line before a pass to Justin Jefferson in traffic at the 5-yard line was intercepted. Mullens threw for 411 yards on the day, but had four turnovers.

"You can have an explosive offense, but crucial mistakes will always hold you back. I tried to put it right on him and the ball didn’t exactly come out how I wanted it to. That’s unfortunate the way it ended like that. We had a chance to win it at the end, and we didn’t get it done," Mullens said.

There wasn't any talk after the loss that Mullens won't be the starter next Sunday night against the Packers. The quarterback position has been a juggling act since Cousins went down. In eight losses this season, the Vikings have 23 turnovers. Mullens has six interceptions since being named the quarterback, and is now 5-14 as a starter.

"Personally I think I just have to take the next step. I believe that I’m a very good quarterback, but what’s it going to take to take the next step? That’s just what I keep striving for," Mullens said. "Decisions, accuracy, you have to be elite at all times. I’ve done a good job of making plays and moving the offense and we’ve worked really hard collectively to move the offensive, but you have to avoid those mistakes."

Mullens finished 22-of-36 for over 400 yards and touchdowns to Jefferson and K.J. Osborn. But it was four passes taken by the Lions that have the Vikings searching for answers.

In a losing effort, Jefferson had six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. 

"We still have that confidence in Nick, we always will have that confidence in Nick. He played a great, phenomenal game. We just need to hold onto the ball, limit those turnovers and be a little smarter with the ball. We’ll be behind Nick this whole time," Jefferson said. "We still think that Nick can put it wherever he needs to. We just gotta keep feeding him confidence, not let this game bring his head down. We’ve got to uplift him and make sure he’s having that confidence."

Equally concerning are what appear to be significant injuries to at least three players. The Vikings lost rookie receiver Jordan Addison for the game to an ankle injury after a Mullens’ interception in the second quarter. They lost T.J. Hockenson to a knee injury after making a catch in the third quarter. They lost D.J. Wonnum to a quad injury early in the fourth quarter, and he had to be taken off by a cart after being consoled by teammates.

Mekhi Blackmon also left the game with a shoulder injury. Immediately after the loss, the injuries to Addison, Hockenson and Wonnum sounded more serious. Wonnum entered the day with eight sacks.

"I have great concern about the injury. You could see what D.J. means to our team, one of those guys that probably hasn’t gotten enough credit for the type of year he’s had. The one thing about our guys is we’ve got the right kind of guys, it’s what make losses like these hurt," O'Connell said.

Jared Goff was 30-of-40 for 257 yards and one touchdown to Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Lions also got two touchdowns from Jahmyr Gibbs, and another from David Montgomery as they collected 389 total yards, 28 first downs and were 6-of-12 on third down.

The Vikings now need a win over the Green Bay Packers on New Year’s Eve night to keep their playoff hopes alive. They would also need a win over the Lions at Ford Field to close out the regular season. They're one game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the final spot in the NFC Playoffs with two games to play.

"We’ve got two more, see where the chips fall where they may. We know we can do it," Mullens said.