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Lions clinch in Minnesota as Vikings fall out of playoff field

Nick Mullens threw four interceptions in the 30-24 loss.
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Nick Mullens threw for more than 400 yards but also tossed four interceptions as the Minnesota Vikings watched the Detroit Lions celebrate the NFC North championship on their field at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. 

As has been the case all season, turnovers and injuries killed the Vikings. Detroit's 30-24 victory got them to 11-4 overall for the franchise's first division championship since the NFC North was the NFC Central in 1993. 

The Vikings have fallen out of the top seven in the NFC playoff race after the Rams improved to 8-7 with a win on Thursday night and the Seahawks got a late touchdown in Tennessee to improve to 8-7. 

Injuries were the theme for a Minnesota team that was playing its fourth starting quarterback of the season and had five starters carrying questionable tags on the injury report ahead of the game. 

In the second quarter, standout rookie receiver Jordan Addison suffered an ankle injury and didn't return. In the third quarter, the Vikings lost tight end T.J. Hockenson to a knee injury and rookie cornerback Mekhi Blackmon to a shoulder injury. Then in the fourth quarter, edge rusher D.J. Wonnum was carted off the field with a left knee injury. 

Detroit punched Minnesota in the mouth on the first drive of the game, going 80 yards on 14 plays and hammering the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard plunge by David Montgomery. 

Minnesota immediately punched back, going 55 yards on their first three offensive plays, highlighted by a 33-yard gain on a screen pass to tight end Josh Oliver, and capped a nine-play, 75-yard drive on a 2-yard touchdown run by Ty Chandler. 

Turnovers and questionable calls then took center stage for the rest of the first half. 

After Cam Bynum forced a Jahmyr Gibbs fumble, the Vikings had a chance to take the lead but Nick Mullens under threw Jordan Addison and the pass was intercepted by Brian Branch. Mullens was intercepted again just before the two-minute warning when his deep ball intended for Addison was up short and was picked off by Kerby Joseph. 

Tucked between the Mullens interceptions was a Jared Goff fumble that Bynum returned for a touchdown only to have replay officials overturn the call on the field and rule that Goff's arm was moving forward. 

Detroit didn't turn Mullens' first interception into points, but the second they did as Gibbs broke a tackle and scored on a 14-yard run with 1:48 to go in the first half for a 17-7 lead. 

That's when Justin Jefferson put the Vikings on his back with catches of 22, 29 and 26 yards, the last a diving catch in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown to bring Minnesota within three points at 17-14. Jefferson also drew a pass interference call in the end zone that was offset by a holding call on Vikings left tackle Christian Darrisaw. 

For Jefferson, it was his fourth touchdown of the season and his first since catching a pair of scores in Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers. The reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year missed Weeks 6-14 with a hamstring injury. 

The late-first-half momentum carried over to the third quarter as Mullens hit K.J. Osborne on a 47-yard deep ball and on the next play he lobbed a pass to Osborne for a 6-yard touchdown and a 21-17 Vikings lead. Mullens was 3-of-3 passing for 77 yards on the drive. 

Detroit came right back and after converting a pair of fourth downs Goff found Amon-Ra St. Brown for a 2-yard touchdown for a 23-21 lead. Minnesota blocked the extra point to keep the game within two points with 4:38 left in the third. And after a three-and-out by the Vikings the Lions chewed nearly seven minutes off the clock with a 14-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard Gibbs touchdown run. 

A 26-yard field goal by Greg Joseph with 5:34 to play cut the score to 30-24 and Minnesota got the ball back at their own 12-yard line with 2:23 to play and no timeouts and a chance to win the game. 

Mullens hit Brandon Powell for a first down gain to the 33-yard line at the two-minute warning. But on 2nd-and-10 from the 33, Mullens fumbled and Jefferson recovered way back at the 16-yard line, setting up a 3rd-and-27 play that Jefferson leaped and snagged a pass in double coverage. 

Mullens then found Powell on the next play for a 26-yard gain to the Detroit 30-yard line, but one snap later Mullens threw a wobbly pass over the middle that was intercepted near the goal line by Ifeatu Melifonwu to seal the game. 

Jefferson finished with six catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. 

Mullens finished the day 22 of 36 for 411 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. 

Up next: Vikings vs. Packers, Sunday, Dec. 31 at 7:20 p.m. Ct. 

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams (9) breaks a tackle by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams (9) breaks a tackle by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium.