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Technically speaking, Justin Jefferson's succinct synopsis of the bane of the Purple Pain that is 2023 was off by 6 minutes, 41 seconds.

"Turnovers," said the Vikings' superstar receiver. "They've definitely been killing us this whole entire year."

Actually, Justin, there were those 11 offensive snaps in Week 1 before all heck broke loose and proceeded to keep rearing its ugly, game-wrecking, soul-sucking head until, well, here we are, on the last day of 2023 preparing to watch the 7-8 Vikings play the 7-8 Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium in prime time in what could be a playoff elimination game.

A week after Nick Mullens threw four interceptions in forking over the NFC North title to Detroit at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings will give rookie Jaren Hall his second career start after 22 career snaps in a move that's both desperate and entirely logical. If the Rams (8-7) and Seahawks (8-7) both win earlier Sunday, Hall and Packers quarterback Jordan Love will be squaring off in a must-win game to stay in the playoff hunt.

Best of luck, Jaren, as you try to do what exasperated coach Kevin O'Connell has been begging for to no avail as the Vikings rank 30th in turnovers (30) and turnover differential (minus-9).

Stop turning the ball over!

"Just play within yourself," Hall said when asked how he will accomplish this feat. "There's lots of different reasons why turnovers happen. … Everyone who has played the game has succumbed to that. You just focus on it all week and try to be better."

Mullens said the same thing. He turned the ball over six times in 136 snaps and two starts (0-2).

Joshua Dobbs said the same thing. He turned the ball over eight times in 306 snaps and four starts (2-2).

Even Kirk Cousins, as well as he was playing before tearing his right Achilles tendon in a 24-10 rout at Green Bay on Oct. 29, said the same thing. He turned the ball over nine times in 507 snaps and eight starts (4-4).

Hall played the final 11 snaps in Green Bay — losing a fumble on a sack for his only career turnover — and gets credit for being 1-0 as a starter. But he left that start in Atlanta with a concussion 11 snaps into a scoreless game, leading to a magical three-game ride in which Dobbs and O'Connell became the talk of the NFL. That must seem like eons ago to both men as Dobbs heads into New Year's Eve as O'Connell's emergency third-string QB for a third consecutive game.

'Some freak stuff'

We should have known this would be a strange struggle with turnovers on the 12th play of that 20-17 Week 1 loss to Tampa Bay.

The Buccaneers didn't even cause the season's first turnover. Vikings right guard Ed Ingram did when he swung his left arm back and inadvertently swatted the ball loose as Cousins was pulling away from center nine plays and 61 yards into an impressive drive.

"That was some freak stuff right there, man," Ingram said. "I was just trying to cut off the nose tackle. Never seen that one before."

Three snaps into the Vikings' next possession, Cousins fumbled the ball away on a sack inside his 20. Then, 16 seconds before halftime, with the score tied 10-10 and the Vikings in the red zone, Cousins was intercepted at the goal line.

Tampa Bay mustered only a field goal with a four-play, zero-yard "drive" off the three takeaways. But it was enough to start a disturbing trend.

Vikings tight end Josh Oliver fumbled on the team’s opening drive against Kansas City on Oct. 8.
Vikings tight end Josh Oliver fumbled on the team’s opening drive against Kansas City on Oct. 8.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Four days later, at Philadelphia, the Vikings trailed the Eagles 10-7 with 41 seconds in the first half. Jefferson caught a 30-yard pass and reached for the pylon. He was ruled out of bounds at the 1. The replay officials overruled, saying he fumbled the ball through the end zone for a touchback and the third of four lost fumbles that night.

Cousins lost the fourth fumble 27 seconds into the second half. The Eagles "drove" 7 yards to a "Brotherly Shove" touchdown sneak, led 20-7, won the turnover differential 4-1 and, well, that was that.

The Vikings headed home with seven turnovers, six of them fumbles, and one takeaway.

O'Connell reorganized practice. He installed new drills and told the media the team was researching every piece of equipment it could find on the internet to improve ball security.

"If we didn't have it before," O'Connell said, "we purchased it."

Great. Fantastic.

But …

Week 3 versus the Chargers at home opened with T.J. Hockenson having the ball ripped from his grasp on the opening drive. It ended with a Cousins interception in the end zone with seven seconds left and Vikings facing first-and-goal from the 6.

Chargers 28, Vikings 24.

A friendly coach on the outside seethed on the inside. O'Connell issued an out-of-character public ultimatum with his team at minus-7 in turnover differential.

"That's something we're going to fix one way or the other," he said. "Either guys are going to [fix] it, or we're going to have to put other guys in the game that have ball security."

The Vikings went to Carolina. Cousins threw a 99-yard pick six on the opening drive. The Vikings won. They came home to face the Chiefs. Josh Oliver fumbled the ball away 10 seconds into the game. The Chiefs turned it into a touchdown and won by seven, 27-20.

Some other nuggets from the Vikings' 30 turnovers:

—It took the Vikings until Week 6 to win a turnover battle and Week 10 to play their first of only two turnover-free games.

—Six times, the Vikings have turned the ball over on consecutive possessions.

—The defense has allowed only 52 points, including four touchdowns, off the 25 turnovers (2.1 points per turnover) it has had to defend. It held Denver to three field goals off three takeaways, including a first-and-goal at the 9, in a 21-20 loss. It held the Bears to three points off four takeaways in a 12-10 loss. It held the Falcons to a field goal after facing first-and-goal at the 1 in a 31-28 win.

—Ten turnovers came in the first quarter, 10 in the second. All but two have occurred with the Vikings tied (10), trailing by one score (14) or leading by one score (four).

—Rookie Jordan Addison was the target on a team-high six of the interceptions.

—Thirteen of the interceptions have come on third down. Four of the last six interceptions — all thrown by Mullens — have come on third-and-7 or longer. Mullens threw caution to the wind on the four deep balls the Lions intercepted. Addison was the target on a third-and-7 and a fourth-and-2, raising the question of whether O'Connell's play-calling is causing the turnover problem for his backup quarterbacks.

O'Connell claims it's not. He said whoever plays quarterback needs to make good decisions, get through their progressions and either find the open receiver or protect the ball.

Lions safety Kerby Joseph had one of four interceptions of Nick Mullens on Dec. 24.
Lions safety Kerby Joseph had one of four interceptions of Nick Mullens on Dec. 24.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips used the fourth-and-2 interception as an example of what O'Connell is talking about. On that play, which came with the Vikings at the Lions' 40 and the game tied 7-7 late in the first quarter, Jefferson was open, but Mullens forced the ball to a tightly-covered Addison.

"You watched the play, you know [Jefferson was open]," Phillips said. "I think the worst thing you can do is to say, 'OK, we got a new guy in there. Let's just line up [vanilla] and run traditional plays and not try to get guys open [deep].

"I think you saw on that play there was someone open. Progress through. If someone's covered, go to the second guy. We had a chance for a big play there. We didn't make it. [Mullens] will learn from it."

In two seasons under O'Connell, the Vikings are 11-0 when winning the turnover battle, 6-1 when tied and 3-12 when losing. During the five-game winning streak that followed the Chiefs game, the Vikings went 3-0-2 in turnover battles.

Now, however, they're in a turnover free fall that's seen them lose four of their last five games by a total of 12 points.

Climbing the lowly charts

The Vikings' 30 turnovers are the most since 32 in 2013. Their minus-9 differential also is the worst since 2013 (minus-12). Only nine times in their first 62 seasons have the Vikings had 30 or more turnovers and a differential of minus-9 or worse.

The most turnovers in team history were 54 in 1962 (minus-11) and 51 in 1978 when Fran Tarkenton threw 32 interceptions while finishing 8-7-1.

The 30 turnovers rank tied for 30th most in franchise history. At their current pace of two per game, the Vikings would finish tied for 18th worst.

Minus-9 would rank tied for 10th worst. The worst two differentials in team history came in 2001 (minus-21) and 2002 (minus-18).

In 63 seasons, including playoffs, the Vikings have turned the ball over 2,032 times and are plus-121. They're minus-13 in the playoffs.

Turnovers are, of course, critical. But the Chiefs (9-6) are minus-10. The Eagles (11-4) are minus-7. And the Browns (11-5) are minus-8 with a league-high 35 turnovers.

Thursday night, Cleveland, with a scoring defense that ranks 12th (20.7), became the first team in NFL history to reach the playoffs with four quarterbacks starting multiple games.

With Jaren Hall starting New Year's Eve, the Vikings and a scoring defense that ranks 10th (19.9), still have a chance to join the Browns as the second team to do that in a season that took all of 6 minutes, 41 seconds to become a topsy-turvy, turnover-filled journey through 2023.