Quarterback Nick Mullens said Wednesday he's healthy from the lower back strain that sidelined him for a six-game span — a time in the Vikings season that saw starter Kirk Cousins suffer a torn Achilles, quarterback Joshua Dobbs arrive via trade and rookie quarterback Jaren Hall get his first NFL start.

Ahead of Saturday's game in Cincinnati, head coach Kevin O'Connell named Mullens as the Vikings' fourth starting quarterback of the season. That's nothing new for the 28-year-old journeyman. All 17 of Mullens' previous NFL starts came for 49ers and Browns teams that started at least three passers those seasons.

Mullens, undrafted in 2017 out of Southern Mississippi, has grown accustomed to being the guy in dire circumstances, which for the Vikings started Oct. 29 with Cousins' injury.

"Uncertain times for everybody," Mullens said. "But you just take it one step at a time. You understand tough things are going to happen in the NFL. You just have to keep your head down as a group — and that's what this team did. Obviously [we've] been through a lot this year, and the year's not over."

Mullens' lower back tightness became an issue earlier in the season, when he first appeared on an injury report before the Oct. 8 loss to the Chiefs. Mullens, the No. 2 quarterback since he was acquired via trade in August 2022, was inactive and placed on injured reserve a few days later.

"I can't put a finger on exactly when it happened," Mullens said. "It was a pretty gray area. But I'm healthy now. Worked to get back, excited to go and that's really all that matters this week."

Mullens said Cousins, who continues to attend some meetings at TCO Performance Center, has been helpful in preparing for his 18th NFL start.

"The Bengals do a lot of interesting stuff on defense and a lot of challenging stuff," Mullens said. "To hear his veteran perspective on it has been great. He brings great energy talking football, talking life, talking Christmas cardigans he's been wearing."

Mullens will have extra support at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. He said his wife, Haleigh, will be there with their 4-year-old son, Luke, who gets to see his dad start an NFL game for the first time. Mullens said Luke was too young to see his last start, which came in 2021 for the Browns.

"Bless my wife," Mullens said. "She's going to have to fly with him. Should be a fun experience."

O'Neill, Mattison still out; Ingram says he'll play

Receiver Justin Jefferson (chest) and guard Dalton Risner (ankle) remained limited during Wednesday's practice. Right guard Ed Ingram (hip) was a full participant, and said he expects to play against the Bengals after missing Sunday's win in Las Vegas.

Right tackle Brian O'Neill (ankle), running back Alexander Mattison (ankle) and receiver Jalen Nailor (concussion) remained sidelined. But O'Neill, whose left leg was in a walking boot after leaving Sunday's game, was seen walking without assistance at the facility.

Guard Chris Reed was added to the injury report with an illness. He did not practice.

Bengals receiver Ja'Marr Chase (ankle) returned to practice Wednesday and was limited.

Pace named NFC Defender of the Week

After leading Sunday's shutout win against the Raiders, linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

Pace, an undrafted rookie, led the Vikings with 13 tackles (eight in the first quarter), a sack, and the game-sealing interception off Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell. Pace is the Vikings' third defensive player of the week this season, joining safety Camryn Bynum (Week 7 vs. San Francisco) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (Week 6 at Chicago).

Pace has continued to ascend since Hicks, the 31-year-old team captain, went down with a leg injury last month. Pace has assumed the in-helmet microphone to relay defensive play calls and has been the team's leading tackler in all three games that Hicks has missed.

Joseph leads NFL in clutch kicks

Kicker Greg Joseph ranks 30th in field goal percentage this season, but he's been clutch. His 36-yard field goal with two minutes left Sunday marked his sixth game-winner for the Vikings since the start of the 2022 season, leading all kickers in that span.

Sunday's winning kick came after Joseph missed a 49-yard try earlier in the game. He has made 19 of 25 field goal attempts (76%) so far. But he's a spotless 9-for-9 in the fourth quarter and overtime when the score is within three points since 2022, according to Pro Football Reference.

"I don't want to jinx him or anything like that," special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said. "But the guy does come up clutch when we need him the most. He shows up and responds the right way."


The Vikings re-signed offensive lineman Henry Byrd to the practice squad.