Sam Ekstrom delivers his observations from Minnesota’s 39-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Surrounded by their own fans in the Chargers’ stadium, the Vikings virtually cemented their playoff status with a victory over the Chargers, coupled with a Los Angeles Rams loss in Dallas. Minnesota scored 20 points off Chargers turnovers as Los Angeles self-destructed throughout the afternoon, losing their first game of the year by more than one possession. The Vikings can clinch a playoff spot as early as Saturday if the Rams lose to the 49ers.
OFFENSE DOES ENOUGH
There wasn’t an explosive component to Sunday’s offensive performance, Kirk Cousins made a critical mistake that could’ve turned the football game, and the Vikings’ red zone efficiency wasn’t very good early on. All that, and the Vikings still ran away with a 39-10 win.
The offense looked its best on the game’s opening drive when Cousins matriculated the Vikings 10 plays, using wide receiver sweeps, screens and passes to tight ends to take the game’s first lead. Irv Smith Jr. continues to see his role increase as he hauled in a one-yard pass for his second score of the year.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 15, 2019
After that, the Vikings squandered golden opportunities given to them by the defense. Minnesota twice went three and out after inheriting the football in Chargers territory. In both cases they ran the ball on both first and second down. Thanks to two late touchdowns, however, the Vikings ended 3 of 6 in the red zone.
Cousins made a grave error late in the first half when he underthrew Ameer Abdullah on a screen pass, lofting it right into the hands of Melvin Ingram. The interception gave Los Angeles a chance to take the lead before halftime, but Minnesota’s defense came up big with a defensive touchdown to bail out Cousins. The quarterback finished the day a modest 19 of 25 for 207 yards. He did hit Stefon Diggs deep for his longest completion of the day, a 46-yarder on a 3rd and 14 late in the game.
Dalvin Cook suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter, knocking him out of his second game in the last three. With Alexander Mattison (ankle) already out, the Vikings leaned on Mike Boone the rest of the way. Before the injury, the Vikings weren’t able to get much rhythm on the ground. They averaged 3.6 yards per carry, and their longest run of the day was Cousins’ 14-yard bootleg scramble in the third quarter.
Boone brought some life to the running game with 49 hard yards and two touchdowns, not including a pair of longer runs nullified by penalties. The undrafted Boone has been electrifying in preseason action the last two years. Sunday was his best chance yet to prove his worth in the regular season.
DEFENSE TAKES AWAY SEVEN
A leaky third-down defense that takes the ball away like thieves? Doesn’t sound like the Vikings. But that’s what they were Sunday against the Chargers.
First, the leaky part. Los Angeles started 5 of 6 on third down, many of them the third-and-long variety. The Vikings quickly lost Xavier Rhodes to a calf injury, giving Mike Hughes greater responsibilities against the big Los Angeles receivers. Hughes was picked on frequently on comeback routes, where he’s been susceptible, and surrendered the Chargers’ first touchdown on a third down pass, which gave them a brief 10-9 lead.
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) December 15, 2019
From there, the Vikings defense upped the pass rush and took the ball away like they haven’t all year — or in almost 25 years. Minnesota’s seven turnovers forced were a season high and their most since 1995, and despite coming into the game tied for eighth-worst in fumble recoveries, the Vikings recovered four Sunday afternoon and even forced a fifth that went out of bounds. Melvin Gordon lost two fumbles, while Rivers lost one on the game’s biggest play.
Rivers fumbles. Ifeadi Odenigbo recovers.
And takes it to the house! #SKOL
— NFL (@NFL) December 15, 2019
Danielle Hunter packed the stat sheet, forcing two fumbles, recovering another and blocking for Ifeadi Odenigbo down the field on his touchdown run.
Eric Kendricks forced one of Hunter Henry in the fourth quarter that led to Trae Waynes’ return to the 10-yard line and Boone’s second touchdown. Hughes came up with an interception in the fourth quarter, signifying a nice response following his early struggles. And Anthony Harris capped the takeaways with a pick in the final two minutes.
And the third-down defense even came around late, stopping four of L.A.’s final five attempts.
Odenigbo has been lights out this season as a situational inside pass rusher. His sack of Rivers Sunday was his fifth of the season in under 30% of snaps. And his touchdown in the second quarter was his first as a pro.