The Los Angeles Chargers had the Vikings’ number in Minnesota from the get-go. They just needed to avoid their own Chargering and lean into whatever ire the Vikings faced from their own chaos gods.
It ended up working on the way to a dramatic 28-24 Chargers win.
Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was clearly no stranger to what a Brian Flores defense looked like. He knew they’d bring pressure and quarterback Justin Herbert would face an astronomical blitz rate. So Moore spread out his offense and let them go to work at beating it.
Los Angeles relied heavily on short passes and screens to balance the offense in a game that saw the Chargers run the ball exactly 13 times, not including Herbert’s two scrambles. Whereas Minnesota was being condemned the past two weeks for not running enough, Los Angeles told everyone they didn’t need to. Herbert was dealing the ball, and quickly. Keenan Allen was the Chargers’ leading receiver, finishing with 18 receptions on 20 targets for 215 yards. Mike Williams had seven catches on eight targets for 121 before he left the game early with an injury.
But perhaps the most telling stat was that tight end Donald Parham Jr. was the one who scored multiple times. He got into the end zone on catches of three yards and one yard. The Chargers had just two plays of over 30 yards.
That strategy resulted in the ball coming out of Herbert’s hands quickly, which didn’t allow enough time for the pressure Flores and his scheme were bringing on a near-constant basis, to get home. The Vikings’ first sack didn’t come until the end of the third quarter when Danielle Hunter slapped the ball out of Herbert’s hands. The Vikings managed just five total hits on Herbert. By contrast, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins took four sacks and was hit another 13 times.
It put a tremendous amount of stress on the Vikings’ coverage unit, which — due to the short and intermediate routes being run — included the linebackers. But the only players to get their hands on passes were cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and safety Cam Bynum.
“With our style of defense, they clearly came in with a plan to see if they could get some pressure looks and had some answers just to put the ball in play just on bubble [screens] and block them up, receiver screens and one-step throws,” said O’Connell. “They were not going to try to drop back in those scenarios.”
And even with that strategy working for the Chargers, Minnesota still had a chance. Despite being down 21-10 in the third quarter, the Vikings turned this game into quite the spectacle for the final quarter.
This was a battle between two franchises bestowed with the ‘cursed’ moniker and hoping beyond hope they could leave it in their wake for a week.
We got our answer in the final two minutes of the game.
Just when it looked like the Chargers — who went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 24 while up four with 1:51 left in the fourth quarter — had done the most Chargers thing possible, the Vikings one-upped them.
Despite the fact they had 1:47 and just 24 yards to go for the touchdown, Minnesota couldn’t get in the end zone to win the game. Even after an illegal use of hands penalty on Los Angeles on third down and 11 gave the Vikings a fresh set of downs at the 20. Jefferson cramped up on the play. A play later, T.J. Hockenson was hit hard and went down. Without a time out in the bank, the Vikings were forced to take a delay of game penalty that backed them up five yards to the 25.
Even so, they had four chances to get to the 10. On fourth-and-5, Hockenson was back in the game and bailed them out on a short pass from Cousins. They got the first down at the Chargers’ six. They had 12 seconds on the clock.
Then the headsets went out.
The communication between O’Connell and Cousins was spotty but the failed technology didn’t even end up mattering. Despite not getting the play and wasting precious seconds, Cousins ran the play O’Connell was trying to call, anyway. They were trying to steal it without Los Angeles being able to substitute. The worst that was supposed to happen was an incomplete pass.
“With the clock winding where it was, I’m going to put this off of T.J.’s frame in an ours-or-nobodies spot,” said Cousins. “And it’s like a clock. It’s either ours for a touchdown to win the game or it’s incomplete. I’m going to put it away from his frame and to a safe spot. Obviously, you don’t expect the ball to bounce up twice in the air and get intercepted.”
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Los Angeles hung on. Minnesota has now lost three straight one-score games after winning all 11 such contests last year.
Whatever Norse gods the Vikings have been favoring, I suggest they diversify. Maybe try the Greeks. Or the Romans.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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