Vikings 27, LA Chargers 20
by Patrick P. Marek
The Mike Zimmer Doomsday Clock backed up about 15 minutes this week as the Vikings beat a very good Chargers team in the Los Angeles sunshine Sunday afternoon. Any home field advantage that the Chargers hoped for was drowned out by Skol chants from a sizable showing of purple-clad partisans, and the fact that Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks turned SoFi Stadium into his own personal stomping ground.
Kendricks starred at UCLA and always seems to save his best performances for the California turf. Sunday was no exception. Despite the fact that the Vikings’ defense was down five week-one starters (including fellow UCLA standout Anthony Barr), Kendricks led a unit that shut down one of the most potent offensives in the NFL. He set the tone with a sack on Hebert’s first play, and added a diving fingertip interception that was a thing of beauty. Herbert was harassed all day by a relentless pass rush, and the secondary did a good job of smothering Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Hebert was held under 200 yards for only the third time in 24 career starts.
Like a weekend golfer, the Vikings have had problems getting all aspects of their game to work at the same time. When the defense had been dominant, the offense has struggled. Special teams have been an inconsistent liability. On Sunday, Minnesota was hitting on all cylinders. The offensive line provided plenty of time for Cousins to throw, and the troubled Vikings signal caller responded by getting the ball to second-year wunderkind receiver Justin Jefferson in crucial moments of the game. Later in the season, we may look back and mark this as the game where the Vikings became Jefferson’s team. Jefferson had only caught five balls in losses to Baltimore and Dallas, and expressed his frustration (some might call it pouting) to the media and the Minnesota brain trust. Miraculously, Cousins limited his checkdowns and began trusting his star receiver by throwing into double coverage and contested windows. Jefferson rewarded Cousins’ confidence with six first-down receptions and a drew a key 15-yard pass interference call.
Jefferson finished with nine passes for 143 yards. Those are gaudy numbers, but they don’t begin to tell the tale of the second-year receiver’s impact on the game.
The Vikings were flagged 10 times for a season-worst 118 penalty yards. Luckily, Jefferson became the “penalty eraser,” and saved his best catches when his teammates had dug themselves into what could have been a soul crushing hole. Two plays after Oli Udoh’s (keep your hands to yourself!) second holding call, Jefferson made an 18-yard catch on third-and-15. He made a 21-yard completion after a Cousins’ intentional grounding penalty, and three plays after a Brian O’Neill holding penalty, Jefferson made an acrobatic sideline grab in tight coverage that was the play of the game. That catch came with Minnesota facing a third-and-six and desperately trying to run out the clock.
Sunday’s win against a quality opponent was satisfying, but it isn’t time to book airfare to the Super Bowl any time soon. Kirk Cousins still looks shaky and unsure in the pocket, and that is never going to change. Mike Zimmer is always going to be a coaching dinosaur who doesn’t trust his offense and has the worst time-out management in the history of the league. The team still shows remarkable defensive lapses at the end and beginning of the halves and continuously makes head scratching mistakes when they have the other team in favorable third and fourth down situations.
However, star players like Justin Jefferson, Eric Kendricks, and Dalvin Cook along with promising rookies Camryn Bynum and Christian Darrisaw and an improving offensive line give hope for the future. Will they beat Green Bay at home next week and win just enough games to make the playoffs and save Zimmer’s job?
Don’t bet against it. After all, these are the Vikings we are talking about.
Stay purple my friends.