The Minnesota Vikings have consistently played in close games that take some wild twists and turns. Seven of their eight games have been decided by one possession. On Sunday, they will face a team with a similar trend in the Los Angeles Chargers. The big difference between the two: Justin Herbert has proven that he can close.
Minnesota has found itself on the right side of the coin in some anxiety-ridden games on two notable occasions this year. They narrowly edged out the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers in back-to-back weeks. What was agitating about both is that they shouldn’t have come down to last-minute heroics that required fans to keep a defibrillator close by just in case.
The Vikings led 16-6 with less than four minutes to go against Detroit. It ended up taking a Greg Joseph field goal from 54 yards out for Minnesota to win as the clock expired.
It was much of the same against the Panthers.
Minnesota led 28-17 with seven minutes to go against Carolina. It took a Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn in overtime for the Vikings to put the game on ice. Suffice to say, Mike Zimmer’s squad hasn’t made it easy on themselves even in the close games they have won, and they’ve lacked the ability to close.
On the flip side, Herbert has shown a knack for giving his team a pulse and never being out of a game. They have been on the opposite side of the dilemma Minnesota has often found itself in. The Chargers have fallen behind in the fourth quarter three times this year, only for Herbert to lead a game-winning drive.
Right out of the gate in Week 1, the Chargers trailed Washington 16-13 in the fourth quarter on the road. A Washington fumble helped LA’s cause. The Chargers responded with a touchdown to take a 20-16 lead. After a Washington punt on the next drive, Herbert would lead his team on a 15-play drive that spanned nearly seven minutes. The Chargers literally ran the clock out to end the game.
Two weeks later, LA found themselves in another hole, this time against Patrick Mahomes at Arrowhead.
Trailing 24-21 with seven minutes left, Herbert would not only take Los Angeles down the field for a game-tying field goal, but he also got the ball back and marched right down for a touchdown. The Chargers knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-24.
Two weeks later, they did it yet again. The Chargers were in a shootout against the Cleveland Browns and scored 26 points alone in the fourth to win 47-42.
This year, Herbert has repeatedly shown that he’s most dangerous when the deck is stacked against him. It’s almost the exact opposite of how Vikings fans feel when Minnesota is trailing late, and Cousins jogs out onto the field.
It’s odd in some ways because Cousins has been pretty good this year. His numbers are OK. The Vikings offense has plenty of talent that inspires hope. However, for one reason or another, the mindset for those who follow the Purple and Gold is always, Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. It’s hard to blame them, but it’s a mindset that differs from that of Bolts fans.
It hasn’t all been positive for the Chargers. LA has had two close losses, dropping games to the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys by a field goal in each. The three come-from-behind drives in the fourth quarter and another last week in a tie game with the Philadelphia Eagles help dull the pain of the two times Herbert couldn’t finish off the opponent. As a result, these two teams carry different league-wide perceptions this year despite their similarities.
LA is 5-3 and tied for first in the AFC West. They are viewed as a dark horse to make a run into the playoffs this year. Meanwhile, fans are trying to figure out where to direct the blame for the 3-5 Vikings. After an all-too-familiar gut-wrenching loss to the Baltimore Ravens last week, dreams of making the playoffs continue to fade.
The difference between two seemingly different teams in the NFL can be razor-thin. That is especially apparent in the case of the Vikings and Chargers, who will square off on Sunday. This year Chargers fans have faith in Herbert finding a way to win, while Minnesota has had nightmares about how they will let another late lead slip through their grasp.