The Vikings travelled to Los Angeles to face the Chargers on Sunday afternoon needing a win to keep pace in the division and ahead in the Wild Card race. Despite a slow start (after the opening drive), the Vikings raced to the finish on the back of six turnovers to a 39-10 blowout victory.
The Vikings feared a Chargers team with nothing to lose that was healthy and better than their record, but the Vikings battled and harassed and fought in all phases until they tempered the Chargers enthusiasm and put the lights out for good.
The win puts the Vikings at 10-4, still in second place in the NFC North to the Green Bay Packers (who outlasted the Chicago Bears on Sunday) and ahead of the Los Angeles Rams in the wild card battle (as the Ram lost to the Dallas Cowboys). The Packers come to U.S. Bank Stadium next Monday, which is a game the Vikings need for a chance at the North, but may be more of a statement game on which team is better in this bitter border rivalry. Nonetheless, the game and excitement surrounding it will be huge on MNF.
Kirk Cousins had a pretty decent game—not up to his usual standards, which have been elite since the first quarter of the season. Cousins led his team to a win, which is the number one goal, but he was decisive, strong throwing, poised in the pocket, and even good on the run. On the game, Cousins was 19 for 25 passing for 207 yards and a touchdown pass (96.6 rating). His one blemish was the interception he threw on a screen pass late in the first half (he was bailed out by a scoop and score by the defense and left tackle Riley Reiff didn’t help letting his man through for the pick), but Kirk needed a little better touch on that one. It is nit picking, but we rather be doing that than throwing up our hands in exasperation. Cousins is quickly becoming the leader of this team.
Dalvin Cook hit the turf on Sunday and he stayed down there a long time. After a very frustrating day for the elite running back (nine rushes for 27 yards and three receptions for 16 yards), Cook ran right was spun around and tackled and landed on his right elbow, and it looked as though he re-aggravated his injured shoulder/clavicle that he has been playing with this season. He left the game favoring it, went into the tent and then was declared out for the game (shoulder) before returning to the bench. We won’t likely get any definitive information on Cook’s condition until Wednesday (unless it is really bad), and he was seen smiling on the sidelines. So, we can, for now, hope the team will rest him and get him ready for the playoffs (if they make it).
Meanwhile, Mike Boone came in for Cook (Alexander Mattison did not dress due to a knee injury) and he actually looked better than Cook (although it came in the game when the Chargers were ready to give up). Boone had 13 rushes for 56 yards and two touchdowns, the first two of his career. He demonstrated just how deep the team is at the position.
The Vikings defense has struggled in recent weeks and they played unevenly in the first half of the game today, but after coming out of the halftime locker room they turned things up a notch and began playing lights out. With seven turnovers (see below), a swarming defense that shutout the Chargers in the second half and a return to form against a decent offense (albeit one with nothing to play for), the defense offers some hope for the Vikings postseason chances should they make it there (no jinxes here).
Defensive end Danielle Hunter continues to shine. After becoming the youngest player to get to 50 sacks in NFL history last week, Hunter had two big plays in the first half (two forced fumbles), leading to 10 points for Minnesota. On the first play of the second half, Hunter recovered a second Melvin Gordon fumble (caused by Shamar Stephen) which led to three more points and a 12-point lead. On the game, Hunter had five tackles (trailing Eric Kendricks with seven and Harrison Smith with six) and another fine performance.
The tights ends were once again a big factor in the game. Kyle Rudolph found the open spots in the zone for three catches and 48 yards—they were big catches leading to first downs. Meanwhile, the rookie Irv Smith, Jr. had a quiet day (two for eight) but one big play—a great touchdown grab near the end line for the Vikings’ first score. It hasn’t been every game and all season, but the tight ends have gradually become a big part of this offense as the season has gone on.
Special teams were a factor today. Great coverage, a blocked punt, and a decent kicking day for Dan Bailey played into the outcome. Bailey missed his first PAT and it seemed to loom large when the Chargers took a 10-9 lead. But Bailey then recovered to make three PATs and four field goals (the longest a 44-yarder) and the missed extra point became a distant memory. Head coach Mike Zimmer won’t even have to address it postgame.
Should be Defending
Gray area in the end zone. The Vikings first score, a Cousins to Irv Smith one-yard touchdown pass, was called a TD and then reviewed. A broadcast member said it was in the gray area of officiating where the refs “need to call it a TD so that it will elicit a review rather force the scoring team to challenge. An interesting idea that is new to me. I like that idea. Something that questionable shouldn’t hamstring the coaches; better to get the right call. Well done, refs.
Short corners. Zimmer likes tall cornerbacks. He has said it several times. Yet, his corners in today’s game were vertically challenged when it comes to covering 6 foot 4 Mike Williams. With Jayron Kearse out and Xavier Rhodes hobbled with an ankle and then a calf, Mike Hughes and Mackensie Alexander (each giving up six inches) had their hands full covering Williams. Williams on that day had four catches for 71 yards and the Chargers’ touchdown. Look for the Vikings to draft another tall corner in the near future.
There were plenty of turnovers on Sunday afternoon (a total of eight, and both teams got into the act. The Vikings created the most (seven) and took advantage of them. Hunter caused two, Harrison Smith recovered one fumble (and picked off a pass) and Ifeadi Odenigbo rumbled with the other for 56 yards and a score. Mike Hughes had a pick, as did Anthony Harris (his fifth on the season) and Trae Waynes recovered a fumble caused by Kendricks to help the cause. The turnovers were a huge factor in the outcome of the game. Throw in the blocked punt and it was a great game for the Purple. The one downside is that that the Vikings offense was offense was only scoring primarily field goals off the gifts. That needs to change a little.