Upon Further Review: Vikings defense overwhelms Chargers
Head coach Mike Zimmer finally found a fix for his struggling secondary: More pressure up front.
“That was like a home game,” Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs said. “I didn’t really see any baby blue jerseys, but I saw a lot of purple.”
It was a game that looked like an upset in the making.
First, the opponent: The Chargers have been a much more difficult out than their 5-9 record would suggest. All eight of L.A.’s losses entering Sunday’s game were by a single score, while their last NFC North opponent — the 11-3 Green Bay Packers — fell 26-11.
The Vikings were shorthanded from the start and took additional injuries as the game went along. Wide receiver Adam Thielen returned after missing nearly two months with a hamstring but played sparingly, finishing with just three catches for 27 yards.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes exited with a calf injury in the second quarter, while running back Dalvin Cook left in the third with a shoulder injury, further complicating a backfield already missing rookie Alexander Mattison.
The offense’s output suffered accordingly.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins struggled to move the ball consistently after connecting with Irv Smith Jr. for a quick touchdown on the Vikings’ opening drive. Cousins went 19-for-25 for 207 yards — his lowest yardage total since Week 3 — a touchdown and an interception, while the run game averaged just 3.7 yards per carry. The Vikings settled for field goals on four of the offense’s seven scoring drives, converting on just three of their six trips to the red zone.
However, with the Packers still atop the NFC North and the Los Angeles Rams now two games behind in the wild-card race, they’ll certainly take it.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Danielle Hunter was a wrecking ball again a week after becoming the youngest player in league history to reach 50 career sacks. He forced two fumbles against the Chargers, including a strip sack with less than a minute to play in the second half that set up Ifeadi Odenigbo’s 56-yard touchdown.
DONT FORGET ABOUT ME
A casual viewer would have been forgiven, in the lead-up to Sunday’s game, for forgetting that Mike Boone is on the team. The second-year running back had just eight carries on the season entering Week 15 and has been buried behind Cook, Mattison and veteran Ameer Abdullah on the depth chart. He had a career day against the Chargers with Cook ailing. Boone ran for 56 yards on 13 carries, registering the first two touchdowns of his career. The Vikings went with a backfield-by-committee in L.A. — a season-high eight players logged at least one carry — but Boone led the way.
Things finally appeared to be breaking in the Vikings’ favor when Harrison Smith came up with an interception late in the second half. It took Cousins just four plays to give it right back on the Chargers’ 29-yard line, putting the Vikings’ recently restored lead in serious jeopardy. Hunter and Odenigbo had a solution. Hunter punched the ball out on second down with the Chargers in field-goal range, setting up Odenigbo’s 56-yard touchdown run. The Vikings took a 19-10 lead into halftime and never looked back.
That was the 13th time the Vikings have piled up seven turnovers in a single game (they last did it in 1995) as Minnesota recovered four fumbles and nabbed three interceptions. Odenigbo added a sack to an impressive stat line, while Hunter and Jaleel Johnson registered sacks as well.
THEY SAID IT
“Boone ran really hard, really well. We knew this kid was a really good runner from what he’s done in preseason and practice.” — Head coach Mike Zimmer
“It’s still all up for grabs. We’ve got to finish strong. It’s a two-game season now.” — Quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The Dallas Cowboys relieved some of the pressure by knocking off the Los Angeles Rams, giving the Vikings a two-game lead in the wild-card race. However, Green Bay held serve atop the NFC North with a win over the Chicago Bears, now officially eliminated. The Vikings host the Packers next Monday, then host the Bears in Week 17.