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Vikings’ depleted O-line makes it a long day for QB Mullens

DETROIT – The Vikings offensive line was battered and bruised entering Sunday's 30-20 loss to the Lions, and quarterback Nick Mullens was probably feeling the same after taking a season-high 15 hits — including four sacks — behind a patchwork group of blockers.

Right tackle Brian O'Neill did not play because of a sprained ankle. Right guard Ed Ingram was a late scratch this weekend because of a shoulder injury. Left guard Dalton Risner played through a chest injury. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw looked hobbled throughout and admitted after the game he played through more than the illness listed on the injury report, but he declined to say what limited him.

Tackle David Quessenberry and guard Blake Brandel started on the right side. Just about everybody allowed at least one hit on Mullens, including the replacements.

"As a quarterback, you try not to focus on, 'Oh, you're getting hit, you're getting hit,' " Mullens said. "I guess it's just like a natural instinct to not really think about it, but you just have to keep playing, keep plugging along and trust the guys up front."

Center Garrett Bradbury described his fifth season as "a year of adjustments," snapping to four different starting quarterbacks and watching one of his closest friends, guard Ezra Cleveland, get traded to Jacksonville. Bradbury said there was a balance of empowering the O-line to shoulder more responsibility while knowing there was only so much they could do.

"I'm so used to Kirk [Cousins]," Bradbury said. "He's Mr. Reliable, so you're so used to having such a leader and baller. It was a little bit different, but a good different at times. We wanted to put it on us a little bit more."

Mullens threw for 807 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions in two starts against the Lions. He also took a combined 26 hits, including eight sacks.

"They're aggressive," Mullens said. "They're going to play their man coverage and their zones to mix in it, along with the blitzes, so you pretty much get every look you're going to see. Blitz coming from every way, we got three [blitzers] up the middle."

Cornerback NaJee Thompson suffered a knee injury in the first half and did not return.

The Lions lost tight end Sam LaPorta (knee) and receiver Kalif Raymond (knee) during the game.

Hunter gets 16½ sacks; free agency next

Edge rusher Danielle Hunter finished with a career-high 16½ sacks, including a fourth-quarter sack that was his first on Lions quarterback Jared Goff since 2021. He said he is embarking into free agency this offseason with gratitude that he's healthy.

He reiterated he wants "to be a Minnesota Viking" but said he understands that business decisions will be made after multiple offseasons of failed contract extension talks with the Vikings.

"I got a lot of wisdom in me, man, and I'm just excited to evolve as a player," Hunter said. "Excited to go into the offseason, work on my physique and work on myself as a player. But it's a lot of stuff that's happened in my career. I want to be here and all that stuff, but, I mean, the biggest part about helping my team is making myself better, and that's the best thing I can do."

Hunter, 29, has played every game in the past two seasons after playing just seven of 32 games from 2020 to 2021 because of neck and pectoral muscle injuries. He was asked what he would remember from eight Vikings seasons if this was the end of the road in Minnesota.

"You never know. This is not to say it's my last one," Hunter said. "But I remember being injured and just watching, [thinking] what if I'm not able to come back out there with my teammates? I just remember one of the greatest feelings I've ever experienced was going back out there."

Mattison's underwhelming season

Running back Alexander Mattison became the first leading rusher in the 62-year history of the franchise without a rushing touchdown. Mattison declined to comment after Sunday's loss. He finished with 700 rushing yards, 192 receiving yards and three receiving scores.

Mattison, who lost his starting job to Ty Chandler in the past few games, fell 50 rushing yards shy of a $250,000 incentive in a two-year contract he signed last offseason.

The Vikings' seven rushing touchdowns tied the fewest in franchise history — excluding the strike-shortened 1982 season. They were the fewest in the NFL this season, tied with the Jets, Panthers and Broncos.

Etc.

• Safety Josh Metellus earned a $1.5 million incentive for playing more than 90% of the team's snaps throughout the season. Metellus, who finished his first year as a starter with four pass deflections, four forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks and an interception, entered Sunday playing roughly 94% of the snaps.

• Risner got a $250,000 incentive for playing at least 50% of the snaps on offense. He started 10 games after signing in September.