The “dress rehearsal” preseason game didn’t go as well as the Minnesota Vikings might have hoped.
Hosting the San Diego Chargers in the third preseason game, Minnesota resembled more of the team that went 3-13 last season instead of the team coming off an impressive win last week against the Buffalo Bills. The Vikings lost 12-10 against San Diego as Nick Novak kicked a game-winning 45-yard field goal as time expired to push Minnesota to 1-2 this preseason. The Vikings travel for the final preseason game on Thursday, Aug. 30 against the Houston Texans.
Making things worse, the Chargers didn’t play several key starters and Minnesota had six players leave with injuries after pregame warm-ups started. Several of the unanswered questions remain for the Vikings with one preseason week left following a performance like this:
Pass offense: D
The final numbers for Minnesota don’t appear too bad, but much of the success came after Christian Ponder and the first-team offense left the field following the first series of the second half. Backup Joe Webb was 6 for 8 for 59 yards and third-stringer Sage Rosenfels went 6 for 6 for 51 yards, leading the team to a late fourth-quarter lead with a touchdown to running back Matt Asiata.
But this game belonged to Ponder and the first-team offense, which managed just 158 total yards of offense. Ponder was 9 for 15 for 115 yards and threw a poor interception, which the cornerback read Ponder all the way and jumped the route. Ponder hit Percy Harvin for a big 40-yard pass, and the two narrowly missed another deep pass that Harvin said he lost in the roof at the Metrodome. But from the beginning the offense was out of sync. Ponder’s first pass was batted at the line of scrimmage and he and receiver Michael Jenkins couldn’t connect on a pair of third-down pass attempts on the first two drives. In addition, Ponder was sacked five times. All the good feelings Ponder had built up the first two preseason games was lost on a night where he looked more like he did during his inconsistent rookie season.
Run offense: D
Adrian Peterson was in uniform for the pregame warm-ups, giving the fans a glimpse at his return to the lineup, but he sat out the game and Toby Gerhart had just six carries, which he finished with 18 yards rushing. With a big battle for the spots behind Peterson and Gerhart, none of the competing players helped to separate themselves. Minnesota rushed a total of 29 times for 101 yards, a 3.5 yards-per-carry average.
Asiata had the biggest night, another strong rushing performance to go with the touchdown catch from the darkhorse in the competition. He had 48 yards on nine carries, a 5.3-yard average. But he also lost a fumble. In fact, Lex Hilliard and Derrick Coleman also lost fumbles. Jordan Todman had his first preseason action as he returns from a sprained ankle. He had two carries for seven yards and caught one pass for 11 yards. This competition continues and will come down to the final cuts likely.
Pass defense: B
Continuing positive steps was Minnesota’s pass defense after a poor 2011 season. The Vikings held the Chargers to just four field goals. San Diego’s quarterbacks — without No. 1 Phillip Rivers — went 13 for 30 for 163 yards. Starter Charlie Whitehurst was 8 for 18 and backup Jarrett Lee was 5 for 12, but Lee was 3 for 4 for 43 yards on the final drive to put San Diego in position for the game-winning field goal.
Again like last season, Minnesota couldn’t create a turnover but did do a good job getting to the quarterback. The Vikings had six sacks, two each by Jared Allen and Jasper Brinkley with Fred Evans and Nick Reed both getting to the quarterback. The pass rush also forced several hurries and throwaways by the quarterbacks. The success also came with several defensive backs leaving due to injuries. Safety Mistral Raymond had lower back pain in warm-ups and didn’t play. Safeties Eric Frampton and Andrew Sendejo each left the game, as did cornerbacks Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels. The injuries pushed starting safeties Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford back on the field at the end of the game.
Run defense: B
Minnesota’s run defense had another strong effort, getting back to its usual effectiveness against opposing running backs. San Diego’s top rusher Ryan Mathews was out of the lineup with an injury and the fill-ins finished with 28 carries for just 78 yards. After the run defense struggled in the first preseason game, the Vikings look like they have fixed the problems with the run defense.
Chargers’ back Edwin Baker did run off a 21-yarder, but overall Minnesota held San Diego to a 2.8 yard-per-carry average and the defense looks strong with Brinkley looking more confident and aggressive in the middle. Evans played a strong game as a starting substitute for Letroy Guion, who is out with a knee injury. Smith is also showing the ability to help out in the run defense as well as covering the pass.
Special teams: B-
There were no glaring mistakes for Minnesota other than another miss by rookie kicker Blair Walsh. That’s two misses in two games in the dome for Walsh, who pushed a 45-yard field goal wide left to start the second quarter. He did come back and connect from 29 yards later. The Vikings let veteran Ryan Longwell go because of Walsh’s big leg, but he’s going to need to be consistent. His leg shows on kickoffs, with two more touchbacks out of three kickoffs. The other was returned for 20 yards.
Chris Kluwe punted five times and had a 50.4 yard average with a 49.6 net average, not giving the Chargers’ returners much of a chance. He also pinned them deep at their own 4-yard line on one punt. The battle among the punt returners continues. Sherels did little with his two attempts. Jarius Wright returned one for 24 yards and could be the spark Minnesota’s been hoping to see from the rookie. Sherels did have a big kickoff return, but it was called back due to a penalty.
A performance eerily similar to last season for Minnesota. It was a half-and-half type game with the offense being a mess for most of it, but the defense standing strong and giving the Vikings a chance at a win. After Ponder and the first-team offense did little, Rosenfels drove Minnesota 62 yards in 10 plays for a 10-9 lead with 1:50 remaining in the game. San Diego went 53 yards for the game-winning field goal. The defense was solid, but this game was marred by mistakes. The Vikings committed six penalties for 81 yards and had four turnovers, three of them lost fumbles. Between questionable officiating, mistakes, and the Chargers sitting out nine starters, it would be hard to judge just what type of team Minnesota will feature this season, despite this being the third preseason game.