News | Minnesota Vikings – vikings.com
MINNEAPOLIS — A ball near the end zone bounced off Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans and into the waiting hands of Joshua Palmer. Chargers 30-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 8:05 remaining in the game.
A ball at the goal line bounced off T.J. Hockenson, took multiple deflections and landed softly in the hands of Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray, Jr. Game-sealing interception with six seconds remaining.
Los Angeles upended Minnesota 28-24, despite the Vikings having prime chances to win the game.
“Very tough ending to a football game that, quite frankly, we felt like was in our grasp again and didn’t execute at the end, overall, the way we needed to on either of our final two possessions to get one of those football in the end zone,” Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell said.
A few plays here and there have created a colossal difference between being 0-3 and 3-0, or at the very least 1-2 with a win Sunday. The Vikings have lost all three of their games of 2023 by one possession a season after going 11-0 in such contests.
There were so many chances to put the game away and a second chance after the Chargers tried to run up the middle on fourth-and-1 from their own 24 with 1:47 left in the game.
Jonathan Bullard stuffed Joshua Kelley behind the line of scrimmage to give the ball back to Minnesota.
After a first down pass sailed just past the reach of K.J. Osborn, the Vikings tried a run up the middle that lost a yard. Minnesota got a fresh set of downs on third-and-11 when Michael Davis was flagged for illegal use of hands, but Justin Jefferson dealt with cramps on the play, resulting in an injury timeout.
T.J. Hockenson was shaken up on the following play.
Because Minnesota did not have any timeouts remaining, the Vikings were assessed a 5-yard penalty for a fifth timeout on the Hockenson injury (no penalty was assessed on the fourth timeout that resulted from the Jefferson injury).
Cousins got the penalty yards back with a short pass to Brandon Powell and followed with consecutive completions to Hockenson for a first down (after a 9-yard completion on fourth-and-5 on a play that began with 41 seconds remaining). Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, however, the Vikings let a considerable amount tick off the clock, not snapping what became the final play until 12 seconds remained.
“You know, the last play sequence there, have a chance at K.J. early on, just one of those — we don’t miss a lot of those. Then roll into a sequence of downs, hit T.J. on the fourth down, and then first and goal,” O’Connell said. “We have elements in our offense to go fast at the same rate of time hopefully that a clocked play would be.
O’Connell and Cousins said they were struggling with communication through the device that is in Cousins’ helmet.
“Just couldn’t hear him in the noise, and just ended up calling the play, and the play I called was the same play he was trying to get to,” Cousins said. “We always practice that, if headset goes out, what do you call? I just called the play, and it ended up being the same one he wanted.”
Cousins was asked if he has the authority to clock the ball in that moment.
“I mean I could do anything I want. I can do the quarterback sneak. I can do whatever I want, but at the same time, you’ve also gotta deal with the consequences,” Cousins said. “Against Buffalo last year I snuck it on my own and didn’t get in, so until you know the future, it’s hard to know whether to take the reins or not, but I’ve done it before and try not to make a habit of it.”
O’Connell said the goal was to try to catch the Chargers before they set their defense or changed personnel.
“By the time he was able to cleanly hear me and get everybody aligned, too much time had come off the clock,” O’Connell said. “Probably looking back on it, just should have clocked it and taken the three snaps from there to try to punch the ball in the end zone, but wanted to try — the way we were defended down there, if we can get a call, that essentially gives us a chance to score before they can set their defensive plan, bring extra DBs and things in the game to defend some of our personnel.
“I wanted to try to [run one play]. At the very least you’re thinking it’s an incomplete [pass], and you’ve got enough time under our normal operation to get a few more, exhaust the rest of the downs if you need them. That’s not what took place, and then we had the unfortunate tipped ball pick there that eliminated our opportunity to win the football game.”
Even after the communication problems and getting to the play O’Connell wanted without hearing it from the sideline, Cousins said he was mindful of trying to place the ball away from his frame in an “ours or nobody’s spot”
“It’s either ours for a touchdown to win the game or it’s incomplete. I’m going to put it off away from his frame and to a safe spot,” Cousins said. “You don’t expect the ball to bounce up twice in the air and get intercepted. But my thought was quicker I can get this thing out, put it to a safe spot, we give ourselves another chance, if, in fact, it is incomplete.”
The Vikings have now suffered a turnover with the ball inside the 2 of an opponent at the end of three of six halves they’ve played this season.
Hockenson added: “It’s just a tough play. It’s something that I look at myself in the mirror and I want to come up with that obviously all the time. It’s just a tough one.”
Here are four more observations from the game.
1. Fumble problems continue
The Vikings lost their seventh fumble of the season to end their first possession of the game.
After marching the ball with five consecutive runs by Alexander Mattison to go from the Minnesota 43-yard line to the Los Angeles 26-yard line, a completion to Josh Oliver went for no gain on second-and-8.
The Chargers blitzed on the following play, and it was picked up by C.J. Ham, allowing a 9-yard completion to Hockenson, but Murray forced a fumble that was recovered by Alohi Gilman at the Chargers 21.
It was the 262nd career reception for Hockenson and just the third fumble of his career.
“As much as we emphasized turnovers all week and we talked about it and we did multiple drills — we do have a conversion right there close to his forward progress being stopped or not — we’ve got to make sure we finish the down with the football, and nobody was more upset about that than T.J.,” O’Connell said. “But across the board, if we get that first down, maybe we can continue to run the football and hit our head on the goalpost the way we were running it to start the game. But turnover there ends that drive, and they turn it right back around and turn it into points.”
Instead of three points or seven points for the Vikings to end that drive, the Chargers marched 79 yards for their first touchdown on the ensuing possession for a 7-0 lead.
2. Blitz resulted in a few hits
The Vikings were aggressive with multiple blitzes but only had one sack and five quarterback hits of Justin Herbert to show for it.
Minnesota lined up outside linebacker Danielle Hunter over the interior of the Chargers offensive line, and Hunter came close multiple times but was unable to reach Herbert.
D.J. Wonnum, who started in place of outside linebacker Marcus Davenport, recorded two hits of Herbert, and Josh Metellus recorded the other.
According to Next Gen Stats, the Vikings blitzed Herbert on 40 of his 49 dropbacks for a rate of 81.6 percent, the second-highest frequency in a game in the NGS era.
Herbert was getting the ball out quickly and made good use of his strong arm to zip the ball past defenders’ outstretched arms.
Hunter eventually recorded a sack and knocked the ball from Herbert’s hand, but the Chargers recovered and punted.
3. Herbert to Allen & Cousins to Jefferson
Chargers receiver Keenan Allen has had quite the career of solid performances, but reached another stratosphere Sunday.
Allen caught a franchise-record 18 passes on 20 targets by Herbert, frequently finding openings in zone defenses.
He also threw a 49-yard touchdown to Mike Williams on a well-executed trick play on which Vikings defenders bit, thinking it was going to be a receiver screen.
Herbert finished 40-of-47 passing for 405 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 123.8, setting individual career highs for completions, completion percentage and pass yards.
Jefferson finished with 149 yards on seven catches (13 targets), highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown.
Cousins was under much more duress than his counterpart and finished 32-of-50 passing for 367 yards with three touchdowns and a passer rating of 97.7.
4. Quick strike before half
The Chargers flashed their way down the field late in the second quarter.
Minnesota had taken a 10-7 lead with 2:08 remaining.
But the Bolts bounced back, going 75 yards for a touchdown with 47 seconds remaining and 14-10 halftime lead.
Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley was rewarded by going for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1 when Herbert zipped a pass to Donald Parham, Jr., for the tight end’s second touchdown of the half.
Los Angeles didn’t face a third down on the drive until the ball was at the 1.
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