LAS VEGAS – Nick Mullens took the snap, dropped back and threw a pass that should have been thrown about 40 minutes earlier.
It was deep, down the middle, slightly touched by a Raiders defender but nevertheless caught by T.J. Hockenson for a gain of 26 yards.
"I'm sure you can attest the tipped ball a little bit to beginner's luck," Mullens said. "But at the same time, just ready to play. It was exciting. I was glad to start off, I think the first play, with the pass. If you are going to go in [the game], you might as well go in."
It was the Vikings' longest offensive play of the game, a shot of adrenaline that was needed to revive an inept offense that was pulling the Purple to a third consecutive defeat.
Mullens was their lifeline on Sunday in a 3-0 victory over the Raiders — the first 3-0 game in the NFL since 2007 — that made retinas ache for all who watched Joshua Dobbs over the previous three and a half quarters. The Vikings have scored just one touchdown over their past two games; their offense needs to be seriously re-examined. Fortunately, their defense has not allowed a touchdown in their past two games.
At 7-6, the Vikings remain on track to reach the postseason as a wild card, but they were nearly derailed on Sunday because of their inability to find the end zone. When Mullens entered with 9 minutes, 10 seconds to play in the game, the many Vikings fans in attendance roared like Bono was taking the stage for a U2 concert at the Sphere across town.
Perhaps Mullens got the offense back on track. He reminded all of us that Hockenson and Jordan Addison were still on the field as he found them for nice gains. Mullens was 9-of-13 for 83 yards in that 9:10 and put the Vikings in position for Greg Joseph's winning 36-yard field goal with 1:57 to play.
Either Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell was a genius for waiting until the right moment to replace Dobbs with Mullens, or he gave too much leash to Dobbs. If you ask me, it's more the latter. There were thousands of people going all in at the various Las Vegas casinos. Why wait?
The "Where is Nick?" watch began in the second quarter after Dobbs went three-and-out for the third consecutive possession.
It was clear by then that the extra credit work Dobbs did during the bye week to improve his command of the offense — or his ability to execute the offense — did not yield the desired effects.
Then we reached halftime with the score tied at 0-0. Both Vikings fans and Raiders fans booed their teams as time wound down. It was a rare moment of unity between the Purple and the Silver and Black.
We had all discovered what it's like to cover Iowa football. Only worse, as Aidan O'Connell struggled to move the Raiders offense as well.
Surely Kevin O'Connell would make the call to the bullpen before the start of the third quarter. Mullens wasn't quite ready for action for the Nov. 27 game against the Bears, when Dobbs threw four interceptions, but he was ready if needed on Sunday. And he was needed.
At halftime, Dobbs was 5-for-11 for 40 yards for a 55.1 passer rating. He had been sacked four times for 37 yards, partially because of his indecisiveness in the pocket. It didn't help that Justin Jefferson left the game after taking a hard hit in the second quarter, and right tackle Brian O'Neill left a little later with a twisted ankle. But the offense wasn't working with Dobbs under center. Mullens made it work once he entered the game.
O'Connell said after the game that he will wait to name a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Cincinnati. It's hard to imagine it will be anyone other than Mullens. The only reason Dobbs might be considered is because the Vikings offensive line is battered and KOC might utilize Dobbs' ability to escape danger.
Mullens' arm can help the Vikings escape danger too. After the Vikings scored just 13 points over their past two games, it's time to make the switch.