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Nick Mullens Tossed The Interception Of A Lifetime

12:33 PM EST on December 17, 2023

There are throws that a quarterback will immediately regret. Like, for instance, approximately 90 percent of the throws made by Carolina Panthers rookie Bryce Young. Not all of these regrettable throws are catastrophic. Who can forget that Jay Cutler attempt at a Hail Mary, the one that a totally washed-up Cutler threw something like 30 yards out of bounds? No one intercepted that one, but Cutler had to know it was a throw that would live in infamy. I'm old enough to remember a time when Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks responded to pocket pressure by turning and throwing the ball directly backwards, in what would be ruled a 25-yard fumble:

I submit that the interception thrown Saturday by Nick Mullens of the Minnesota Vikings is a peer to any of the worst throws you have seen. Mullens, who was starting for the first time as a Viking only after several other players ahead of him on the depth chart kerploded, threw the ball directly into the face of a Cincinnati Bengals defender, and from just inches away. The NFL's play-by-play does not record an intended target on this pass because it cannot possibly have been intended for any of Mullens's teammates. The ball deflected off of B.J. Hill's face, then off of Mullens's own butt, before finally landed softly in Hill's hands. It was Mullens's second consecutive drive-ending interception.

Nearly as funny as the interception itself was Mullens's immediate reaction on the field. As Hill jumped up and celebrated with his teammates, Mullens did a little motion with his hand and wrist to indicate to the officials that he had not, in fact, fumbled the ball, but had instead definitely thrown it. Perhaps Mullens could not fathom that the ball made it into Hill's hands without having first touched the field, but it is important to note that Mullens had all but handed it off. It would've been flukier if Hill had not caught it.

This throw was not catastrophic. The Bengals subsequently squandered great field position and failed to score before the end of the half, which I'm sure came as a great relief to Mullens. Except the Vikings are desperately clinging to a fading shot at a playoff run, and every drive is, therefore, a pretty big opportunity, not something to be throw away—where "away" should be read to mean "several inches and directly into the hands of a player on the other team."

History ultimately might not judge Mullens to be a bad NFL quarterback, although he's been around long enough now that, I think, we can rule him out as a particularly good one. He performed capably if un-inspiringly during two fill-in stints under center for the San Francisco 49ers, who signed him out of college and stored him for a couple seasons on their practice squad. He had a single caretaker start during his lone season with the Browns, when the team's other two quarterbacks were stricken with COVID-19. And, prior to Saturday's start against the Bengals, he had appeared briefly in just five games spread over most of two seasons with the Vikings. This might not be the signature highlight that Mullens deserves for six years of unheralded hard work, but there is almost no hope that he will ever outdo it for sheer athletic spectacle. This is The Nick Mullens Play, forever.

"There is areas for improvement," Mullens acknowledged after the game, which ended with a 27–24 Bengals victory. Asked about the throw, Mullens said that "analytically" it probably would've been better for him to take the sack, but in the moment he was just desperate to get rid of the ball. To which I say: No shit, man.

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