Sunday marked an impressive road win for the Minnesota Vikings. They wiped out the Los Angeles Chargers, 27-20, and are now 4-5 on the season. However, this win came in an abjectly different manner than their last couple Ws. This time the Vikings showed competence down the stretch and were aggressive in the right moments.
Trailing 17-13 late in the third quarter, the Vikings were staring down the barrel of a 4th and goal from the one-yard line. They had run on the last three plays to set themselves up on the doorstep of the goal line. The decision to go for it seems easy, but some teams would still opt to kick the field goal and make it a one-point affair. The Vikings didn’t.
If you want to question the play call itself, have at it. Just remember that the Vikings tried running it three consecutive times starting at the six-yard line and couldn’t punch it in. It turned out to be a bit dicey as quarterback Kirk Cousins had pressure come right up in his face after initiating a play-action call, but he was able to deliver a feathery touch of a pass to Tyler Conklin for a touchdown. Minnesota took a 20-17 lead. The first box had been checked.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter. Minnesota was leading 27-20 late, and the defense had held the Chargers to a field goal to maintain a one-touchdown lead. The Vikings needed to piece together a drive that burned off nearly five minutes to put the game on ice. It’s something they failed to do on other occasions throughout the year. This time, Klint Kubiak pushed the right buttons to get the ball into the hands of the top playmakers.
On a 3rd and 6 from their 29-yard line, Cousins threw a rainbow down the far sideline to Justin Jefferson. He saw the one-on-one coverage, knew his wideout had been feasting all afternoon, and gave him a chance to save the day. Not only did Jefferson make the play, but it was also a sensational one. To put a cherry on top, the Chargers challenged the ruling of a catch and ended up losing a timeout.
It was a phenomenal play, but there was work left to be done. In typical Vikings fashion, the next play yielded an offensive face mask call. 1st and 10 became 1st and 25. Cousins found Adam Thielen for 18 yards two plays later, but Minnesota faced a 4th and 2 from the LA’s 36-yard line. This is where the Vikings’ strategy tends to go haywire.
Minnesota could’ve attempted a 53-yard field goal. Greg Joseph has been good this year, but there wouldn’t be a Vikings fan who would’ve felt confident about the chances of that kick splitting the uprights. It has little to do with Joseph and more to do with kicker PTSD. Instead of the field goal, Zimmer rolled the dice and went for it. A Dalvin Cook run to the right was exactly what the doctor ordered. With the Chargers out of timeouts, it was curtains in LA. Minnesota was victorious. The second and final box was checked.
The Vikings hadn’t earned a victory since their win in Carolina nearly a month ago. It took two Vikings missed field goals and the Carolina Panthers scoring 11 points in the last five minutes to send that bad boy into overtime. Competence, the Vikings did not show. Aggressiveness, they left back in Minnesota.
The Vikings missed a field goal and lost a fumble on two of the last three drives against the Detroit Lions back in Week 5. Detroit scored 11 points in the final 2:30. It took a Joseph 54-yard field goal as time expired for Minnesota to catapult back in front and get the win. Like the Carolina win, it was scattered, chaotic, and far from conventional.
Perhaps the decisive nature of the win in LA will prove to be an outlier. Or maybe it’s a sign of things to come from this team. For the first time since the win over the Seattle Seahawks, this Vikings team showed they could piece the whole puzzle together. They proved that they could close a game out with a final drive to get into victory formation. It hasn’t always been pretty, but they pushed all the right buttons when it mattered most against a good Chargers team. Now they’ll try to carry that forward as they look to make a wild card push into the postseason.