By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com
On the second Sunday of November, the (5-3) Los Angeles Chargers welcome the (3-5) Minnesota Vikings into SoFi Stadium on an unseasonably warm day warm 85-degree day in Inglewood, CA. for their fourth home game against Minnesota since 1981. The Chargers are coming off their narrow win in Philadelphia and seek to increase their home record against the Vikings; who is coming off two consecutive losses to Baltimore and Dallas, respectively.
The Chargers would welcome back Kenneth Murray, their 2020 first-round draft pick, who was recently activated for this game. In a related roster move, Defensive Back Ryan Smith was placed on Injured Reserve. The Chargers would also be without Nassir Adderley (ankle), Michael Davis (hamstring), Mark Webb (knee) in this contest.
Whereas, the Vikings would start the game without their four-time Pro Bowl linebacker and UCLA Graduate, Anthony Barr. The Vikings QB Kirk Cousins came into the game with a 103.4 passer rating on the season. Throwing 16 touchdowns and two interceptions, which is the fewest in the NFL this season among passers with 200 attempts. Their running back Dalvin Cook leads the team in rushing with 554 and yards from scrimmage with 639. On the defensive side of the ball, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter have combined for 11 sacks.
The Vikings were forced to punt on their initial drive of the game. After a sack on second down, the Chargers threw a screen pass from deep in their endzone that did not reach the first down markers. They then punted to DeDe Westbrook on fourth down, who returned the ball to the Chargers 28-yard line or prime scoring position for a team on the road in the NFL.
The Chargers defense responded by forcing Vikings QB Kirk Cousins to fumble, as he appeared to try to throw an incomplete pass but didn’t get his arm in motion. Joey Bosa was credited with a forced fumble and sack on Cousins. Cousins became the 33rd QB Bosa has sacked in his career. After the following Chargers drive was thwarted, they lined up as if they were going for a first down on another 4th down. Yet they fooled everyone when they merely tried to draw the Vikings’ offsides on their 4th & 4, before accepting the penalty and punting the ball away.
In the first half of games, this season Kirk Cousins has played his best football. Entering Sunday’s game, Cousins’ has thrown twelve touchdowns to zero interceptions on 72 percent completion percentage for a 123.4 passer rating. In the second half, when things get a bit more critical Cousins’ completion percentage drops to 64 percent, and he has only thrown three touchdowns to two interceptions for a passer rating of 84.3.
Later in the first quarter, rookie LB Amen Ogbongbemiga dropped Cousins for a nine-yard loss to register his first career sack. That was also the 11th sack allowed by the Vikings all season. Ogbongbemiga is the second rookie undrafted free agent to post a sack this season, joining Tennessee DT Naquan Jones. He is the first undrafted rookie from Oklahoma State to get a sack since Warren Thompson in 1987.
That Ogbongbemiga sack assisted in stalling the Vikings’ drive, which subsequently forced them to kick a 46-yard field goal to get the points on the board. After a touchback, the Chargers start their drive on their 25-yard line. They pick up a first down on a pass to Keenan Allen before gaining a couple of first downs from multiple penalties. This drive stalled after Herbert failed to hit Ekeler on a third-down wheel route, and they were forced to kick a 46-yard field goal of their own that ties the ball game.
The first third-down conversion for either team came on an 18-yard pass from Cousins to, 2nd-year Receiver, Justin Jefferson who flipped the ball to Keenan Allen as he ran onto the Chargers sideline. On Jefferson’s third catch of the game, he takes the ball inside the Chargers’ 15-yard line. Kirk Cousins avoids an interception from Derwin James Jr, who defended a pass in the endzone in which the ball hit him in the hands. Before that play, Minnesota completed their longest drive of the game to score their second field goal of the game after an 11 play 50 yards drive midway through the quarter.
Justin Herbert wasn’t so lucky, as his pass intended for Keenan Allen was intercepted by Eric Kendricks, the Vikings 7th year veteran out of UCLA. This interception led to a short touchdown reception by Tyler Conklin, their 4th year Tight End out of Central Michigan, to capitalize on a 6-play 31 yards drive. That touchdown and the extra point gave the Vikings a 13-3 midway through the second quarter of the game. The Vikings also hold the distinction of being the only team to lead every game by 7 points this season.
On the following drive the Chargers, with time running out in the first half, were the recipients of a bad pass interference call, that gave them the ball inside the red zone of the Vikings. On this drive, the Chargers convert their first third down of the game and see’s rookie running back Larry Roundtree III go over the top of the pile for the first touchdown of his career. Roundtree III also got his monies worth on his touchdown dance, which ultimately narrowed the lead to 3 points, after they converted their point after touchdown kick too close the first-half scoring.
The Chargers open the second half up with a drive that takes them deep in the Viking territory. Their 10-play 75-yard drive resulted in a 3-yard TD pass from Justin Herbert to Austin Ekeler. This TD makes Auston Ekeler the youngest running back to reach 20 receiving touchdowns in the NFL. On a two-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter, RB Austin Ekeler reached 20 career receiving scores. At 26 years, 181 days, he became the youngest running back to reach this mark in the common draft era (since 1967). Only Chuck Foreman (21) has more receiving touchdowns by a running back over their first five pro seasons in the common draft era.
The Vikings were held to zero first downs on their initial drive coming out of the half. It appeared the Vikings were going for a fake punt, yet the refs inexplicably stopped the play. Then the Vikings decided to punt the ball to the Chargers. The Chargers would then go three and out on their drive and would be forced to punt the ball back to the Vikings.
On their second drive of the second half, the Vikings dove the ball deep into Charger’s territory. After being stopped on third down, the Viking went for the touchdown on 4th and goal. They completed their 9-play, 66-yard drive with Tyler Conklin’s second touchdown catch of the day. That touchdown also gave the Vikings a 3-point lead, 20-17, midway through the third quarter.
After the Chargers went 3, and out, they were forced to punt the ball back to the Vikings. The Vikings subsequently went on a 12-play, 68 yards scoring drive that would give them another ten-point lead with just over 9:00 remaining in the game. For the Chargers to win this game, Herbert would have to lead the Chargers on the sixth come-from-behind win of his career.
Though there were some missed opportunities, the Chargers would only go down the field to kick a field goal and narrow the Vikings lead to 7 points with under 5 minutes remaining in the game. They would not keep the Vikings from converting first downs on their final drive to get the ball back. Even though the Chargers had their third-best run defense showing this season, the Vikings eventually ran the clock out to end the game.
The combination of Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson killed the Chargers in this game. Cousins finished the game with 295 yards passing on a 109.5 percent Quarterback rating, while Jefferson amassed nine receptions for 143 yards on 11 targets. On the other side of the ball, Herbert passed for under 200 yards, with another game under a 74 percent passing rating.
“I loved that drive coming out of the halftime. I really felt like we were aggressive running the ball, throwing the football, staying ahead of it. Just felt like our guys were executing at a high level. I felt like our pace was good. I was a little surprised. We had these really good stretches, and then it felt like we were fighting to find it in other stretches. We just have to go back to work — we have to go back to work and find that that consistency because when we’ve executed like I know we can, we’ve been really tough to stop. That’s what we need to continue to strive for.” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley discussed how he felt about their offensive production after their loss to the Vikings.
“That is just the NFL. Obviously, you want to win every game, but it is not going to happen like that. It is all about reacting to this adversity. It is tough to lose a game, especially after the game we had last week, but it is all about the preparation that we are going to have this week; to watch the film tomorrow, to be better from it and to learn from it because we cannot let this team beat us twice.” Chargers Justin Herbert said about accepting and adjusting to this loss.
QB Justin Herbert became one of the fastest players in NFL history to reach 50 career touchdown passes. His two-yard scoring throw to RB Austin Ekeler marked No. 50, doing so in 24 games to become the fourth player in NFL history to do this within the first 24 games of a career. At 23 years, 249 days old, he was also the fourth-youngest player in NFL history to reach 50 career touchdown passes.
Here are some Chargers facts that have been established following this game; The Bolts defense, led by S Derwin James Jr., and LB Kyzir White, who each had 12 tackles on the day. WR Keenan Allen led the way with eight catches for 98 yards, eclipsing 8,000 career receiving yards. The Chargers have allowed 100 plus yards rushing for the 8th time this season (tied for most in the NFL). Justin Herbert has become the 4th fastest quarterback to reach 50 plus career touchdowns in the history of the NFL (Mahomes, Warner, Marino). Austin Ekeler has joined HOF LaDainian Tomlinson as the only Chargers running back’s with 250 plus receptions in their first five seasons. Ekeler also scored his 20th career receiving touchdown; no other Chargers RB has more than 15 in the Superbowl era. Keenan Allen becomes the 4th Chargers receiver to amass 8,000 plus career yards (Gates, Alworth, Joiner). Joey Bosa has recorded 1 plus sack and 1 forced fumble for the 8th time in his career. This is the most for the Chargers since he was drafted in 2016.
At 5-4, everything the Chargers are playing for is still within their grasp. Having lost 3 of 4 of the previous games has left some to be concerned with their playoff’s viability, though no one expected this team to be undefeated this season. With the AFC West still open for the taking, these Chargers will have to put together some consecutive wins to claim this division. What are your thoughts on the Chargers being able to win this division? Reach out to me on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts. I encourage you to forward any suggestions on what topics, angles, or players on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.
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