When the Minnesota Vikings failed to score on their first possession of the game against the Chargers, an impending doom fell over their fans. For this is the one drive every game that the Purple Nation can count on to produce offensive fireworks. When they came up empty on that drive, the Vikings and their faithful appeared to be in for a long afternoon.
But to everyone’s surprise, the team had one of their best efforts of the season in a 27-20 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles. Their road win was accomplished by the combination of a renewed energy on offense, an opportunistic defense, and solid special teams play. For one week at least, they stopped the buzzards from flying overhead.
Both teams start slow
In the first quarter, neither team seemed to be up for the challenge of the day. The Vikings were forced to punt on their first offensive possession, marking the first time that they had not scored on their opening drive this season. Then they squandered an excellent opportunity to put some points on the board on their next possession.
The Chargers’ Ty Long booted a 59-yard punt to Dede Westbrook who made his way down the left side of the field. He ended up with a 45-yard return that brought the ball all of the way down to the Chargers’ 28 yard-line. However, misfortune struck Minnesota three plays later when Joey Bosa sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins, which caused a fumble. Bosa promptly recovered his own sack strip at the Los Angeles 29-yard line.
The Vikings get on the board
The teams traded field goals, but then Cousins led the Vikings on an impressive drive. It covered 16 plays and 60-yards and brought the Vikings down to the Chargers’ one-yard line. The Minnesota Vikings’ goal of getting the ball more often to their playmakers was clearly evident on this drive. Justin Jefferson caught two passes for 39-yards and Dalvin Cook carried the ball four times on their march down the field.
Unfortunately, two incompletions and a holding penalty on left tackle Christian Darrisaw sent the ball back to the Chargers 11-yard line. Then the all too familiar scenario occurred when the Vikings had to settle for a Greg Joseph 30-yard field goal. The Minnesota Vikings led 6-3 with 6:42 left in the second quarter.
After the ensuing kickoff, Eric Kendricks made one of the best plays of the year for the Minnesota Vikings. Justin Herbert dropped back looking for his receiver Keenan Allen. Herbert threw the ball down the field and Kendricks dove in front of Allen intercepting the ball at the Los Angeles 31-yard line. The Vikings seized this opportunity with Cousins throwing a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Conklin seven plays later.
The Vikings were their own worst enemy on the next Chargers offensive possession. Herbert led them on a 12-play, 42-yard drive that culminated in a Larry Rountree III one-yard touchdown run. The Vikings unfortunately were guilty of two penalties on this drive. The worst was a 28-yard infraction against nickelback Mackenzie Alexander for pass interference on Allen. The two teams proceeded to exchange punts and the half ended with Minnesota Vikings leading 13-10.
Oh no, not again?
Minnesota fans now were thinking, will the Vikings blow another halftime lead? And will they once again, snatch defeat from the throes of victory? The Chargers’ first drive of the half certainly put some gasoline on that expected fire. Herbert led them on a beautiful, 12 play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Austin Ekeler. Herbert simply tore up the battered Minnesota Vikings secondary on this drive.
The Purple Nation was now haunted by the ghost of blown second-half leads past. But after an exchange of punts, something unusual happened. Cousins and the Vikings launched an impressive 13 play drive that enabled them to regain the lead. The highlight of the drive was a spectacular leaping grab by Jefferson that was good for 27-yards.
The Vikings get offensive
A Cousins pass to Conklin for his second touchdown of the day lifted the Minnesota Vikings to 20-17 with 2:39 left in the third quarter. But the motivated Vikings offense was not quite finished for the day.
Cousins marched them down the field on another textbook drive that ended with a Cook one-yard scamper. Key plays on the drive were two third-down completions, one to Jefferson and one to Adam Thielen. And as they had all game, the offensive line with fill-in center Mason Cole gave Cousins excellent protection. But could the Vikings hold on to the lead?
Herbert once again marshaled them on an impressive drive and it looked like the Vikings lead would be cut to three. But the Minnesota Vikings defense held their ground and forced the Chargers to settle for a Dustin Hopkins 24-yard field goal. Minnesota led 27-20. But Vikings fans were still thinking, can they hold on?
Big finish and the road ahead
Just then the heavens opened up as the Vikings drove 61 yards to the Los Angeles 37-yard line to run out the game clock. They did it! They really did it!
Besides their potent offense, Minnesota deployed an aggressive blitzing defense that had Herbert on his heels all day. Their defense blitzed at a 40 percent clip for the game. This forced the Chargers quarterback to eschew the long ball in favor of safer, shorter throws.
The road ahead gets no easier for the Vikings as they take on their division rival, the Green Bay Packers at home this Sunday. However, they move forward with more confidence in their offense and a defense that should see several key players return to the starting lineup. At least, coach Mike Zimmer was able to take a deep breath after this one.