Why Did Minnesota's Loss To the Chargers Feel So Familiar?

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the Los Angeles Chargers had a familiar feel to it on Sunday afternoon. Just like last season, the Vikings fell into a big hole in the second half, and Kirk Cousins did his best to dig them out of it. Just like the first two games, Minnesota came up short, giving fans in U.S. Bank Stadium a feeling they know all too well.

But Sunday’s game went deeper than the Kevin O’Connell era. It goes back to a Halloween night in 2021 when the Vikings hosted the Dallas Cowboys. The Cooper Rush Game served as a pivotal moment in Vikings history. And just like that cold October night, Sunday’s game has a chance to be a moment that shapes the franchise for years to come.

Minnesota’s opponent on Sunday afternoon was similar to when the Cowboys walked into U.S. Bank Stadium a few years ago. In the hours leading up to kickoff, Dak Prescott was ruled out due to an ankle injury and backup Cooper Rush was ready to make his first start on national television.

Vikings fans licked their chops at the thought of Mike Zimmer’s defense eating Rush alive. However, Dallas’ backup answered the call. He threw for 325 yards, an interception, and two touchdowns, including a game-winning score to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds to go.

Like the Cowboys on that night, the Chargers seemed ripe for the picking. The Chargers had “Chargered” their way to lose their first two games of the season, and head coach Brandon Staley was on the verge of losing his job.

Just like Rush did a few years ago, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who is now in the same position with the Chargers, crafted a game plan to carve up Minnesota’s defense. The only difference this time is that Moore was working with Justin Herbert, a franchise quarterback. Herbert used quick passes to counter Brian Flores’ defense and racked up 405 yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon.

Keenan Allen catching 18 passes and throwing a touchdown to Mike Williams had a cold-water-shock effect reminiscent of Minnesota’s loss to the Cowboys. But it got downright weird when the Vikings drove to the goal line in the final minutes of the game.

The Chargers stopped Alexander Mattison twice on Minnesota’s first attempt to get the go-ahead score, and a pair of incompletions by Cousins turned the ball over on downs. The Vikings’ defense stepped up to stop Los Angeles on a fourth-and-inches that would have put the game away. However, it merely gave Cousins another chance to jump back into the time machine.

With the Vikings facing a fourth-and-five, Cousins completed a pass to T.J. Hockenson that was good for a first down. Cousins began to rush to the huddle but couldn’t hear O’Connell’s play call over the crowd noise.

Cousins sprang into action to call what he believed was the play O’Connell wanted. But in doing so, he ran 20 seconds off the clock. His pass clanged off Hockenson’s hands and into Kenneth Murray Jr.’s arms for the game-clinching interception.

“I can do anything I want,” Cousins said when a reporter asked if he had the authority to spike the ball and stop the clock in that situation. “I could quarterback sneak it, I can do whatever I want. But at the same time you have got to deal with the consequences.”

Cousins referenced the play in last year’s win over the Buffalo Bills where he called a QB sneak on a fourth down at the goal line late in the game. Netflix’s docuseries Quarterback shows Cousins talking to O’Connell, who was disappointed that Cousins ran a play before he called timeout.

It was eerily reminiscent of two years ago when Cousins was running a two-minute drill in the loss to the Cowboys. With time winding down and a timeout in his back pocket, Cousins let 20 seconds elapse before running his next play. When asked about the situation, Cousins deferred to Zimmer.

“I just let Zim handle the timeouts because I never know what the coaches want to do with what they’re thinking, a play ahead or what that may be,” Cousins said. “So I was just going to let them handle that and call the next play.”

Coincidentally, Zimmer directed his ire toward Sheldon Richardson a few weeks prior. Richardson had tried to call a timeout on a Vikings field goal attempt, but they had already used all three timeouts. When the Cowboys celebrated on the field after defeating the Vikings a few hours later, it appeared to be confirmation that Zimmer had run his course in Minnesota and there needed to be a change. The Vikings dismissed him at the end of the season.

On Sunday, there was a similar feeling when Herbert took the final knee to seal the victory. O’Connell’s job is likely safe; instead, it could be Cousins who is seeing his time is running out in Minnesota.

Cousins is in his sixth season with the Vikings, and there’s not much of a difference between now and his arrival in 2018. Each season has brought an outside force that has torpedoed his season, while Cousins has survived like a Twinkie during a nuclear war.

While Zimmer blamed poor offensive coordinators and injuries, Cousins has occasionally blamed something that was out of his control. On Sunday afternoon, that happened to be a quiet headset and a loud crowd.

With Cousins in the final year of his contract, this season has been a referendum on his performance. He has put up the big stats, including a league-leading 1,075 passing yards and nine touchdowns. But the Vikings are 0-3 and looking for answers. It turns out that Kellen Moore could be to Cousins what Rush was to Zimmer. And that’s why Sunday’s game had a similar feel to when the Cowboys shocked the Vikings a few years ago.

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