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Another competitive game. I really liked the back-to-back scoring drives in the second half. And a game-sealing drive by the offense as well! It's about time.
— Jeff Ludwig
Finally, a Victory Monday edition of the Mailbag. It's been a while since we did one of these.
Jeff's points are all spot on, and I'm pretty sure they sum up the majority of what Vikings fans are feeling this morning.
Minnesota led 13-10 at the half, and the 3-point lead felt a tad slim since the Vikings had outplayed the Chargers for the majority of the first half.
And then Los Angeles marched 75 yards with ease to take the lead to open the second half. For a second there at SoFi Stadium, I wondered if the Vikings were going to suffer the same fate they had so many times this season.
But the Vikings dug deep when they most needed to, even if it took them a few possessions to get going.
The teams traded punts before the Vikings put together a 66-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by Tyler Conklin's 1-yard score.
Minnesota then forced a three-and-out, and the Vikings offense (playing with a 20-17 lead) kept the pedal to the metal with a 68-yard touchdown drive. It chewed up seven-plus minutes off the clock and gave the Vikings a 10-point lead.
The Vikings, thanks to clutch plays and an aggressiveness from Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, later salted the game away in the final few minutes to preserve the win.
It was a nice change of pace from recent weeks, when the Vikings were seemingly in scramble mode on both sides of the ball in the final stanza.
Perhaps a close game should have been expected since the Vikings play in them almost every week, and the Chargers are also notorious for being in tight contests.
The Vikings still have work to do and remain below .500 at 4-5 on the season, but this was a much-needed win.
Zimmer said it best after the game:
"They came here to work and they fought like crazy all week like they always have, and it finally paid off."
If the Vikings have proven anything this season, it's that you can expect nearly every game to be close. As I written numerous times before, this team will be in every game on both sides of the ball.
There is too much talent and fight for the Vikings to lose big, but there is also a little too much inconsistency for them to being able to win comfortably.
Sunday's seven-point win maybe felt comfortable, but it was also yet another one-possession game — Minnesota's eighth this season. I expect many more of them with eight games left to go.
But the win gets some wind back in the Vikings sails and sets up a massive home game Sunday against the Packers.
Minnesota is not in a playoff seed as of today because Carolina is 5-5. But, remember the Vikings have the head-to-head win over the Panthers.
If the Vikings can find a way to get a win, get back to .500 and get past the conference-leading Packers (8-2), they will be riding high as the playoff races heats up.
And, if Minnesota can win Sunday at home, they will have emerged from a daunting four-game stretch with an even split. The internal expectation perhaps hoped for three wins in that stretch, but if the two can come at the end, that will only mean some strong momentum for Zimmer's crew in the final two months of the season.
With the exception of penalties, in my opinion, it was a very well-played game. Skol Vikings! Keep it up!
— Brian B.
Oh, you can be sure Zimmer mentioned the penalties right away in his postgame press conference.
"We had way too many penalties, offensively. We had to overcome first-and-20 probably three times,' Zimmer noted in his opening statement. "Defensively, we had one or two pass interferences, I think. So, we have to clean that up."
Zimmer isn't wrong here.
The Vikings faced the following scenarios on Sunday: second-and-19, first-and-20 and third-and-20. Minnesota's final drive included the latter two down and distances, but the Vikings overcame them to run out the clock.
That's the mark of a resilient team. But Zimmer knows that most teams likely can't put up 10 penalties for 118 yards and get a win on any given week.
Right guard Olisaemeka Udoh was whistled for a pair of holding penalties, which continues a rough trend for the first-year starter this season. Christian Darrisaw's holding call wiped a touchdown off the board, and Brian O'Neill's holding put the Vikings in that first-and-20 hole mentioned above.
Defensively, a pair of defenders (Everson Griffen and Patrick Jones II) were called for illegal use of hands. And Mackensie Alexander's defensive pass interference call led to a late first-half touchdown by the Chargers.
The Vikings managed to overcome those miscues and win Sunday. But that's a dangerous game to play going forward for the rest of the season.
Man, Mason Cole at center seems to be able to hold up a lot better than Garrett Bradbury. I think he solidifies the O-line much better than Bradbury and doesn't get dominated by bigger linemen.
— John Heil
Count me among those who believe Cole has been a nice surprise over the past two games while filling in for Bradbury, who is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Vikings might have to make a decision this week, when Bradbury perhaps will return to practice and be available for Sunday's game. Perhaps he'll need time to get back to full strength, and that means Cole will start again.
View game action photos of the Vikings battling the Chargers during the Week 10 matchup at SoFi Stadium.
But at some point, the Vikings will need to choose between Bradbury and Cole as the starting center.
The opinion stated here is that Bradbury will get his starting spot back. The Vikings have invested heavily in him and yes, him being a 2019 first-round pick is a big part of that.
I just have a hard time believing the Vikings will let a first-round pick sit on the bench when they are trying to get a solid evaluation of him in his third season.
John pointed out Bradbury's tendency to get overpowered at times, and that does happen. But the team does value his leadership up front and rapport with Kirk Cousins.
Again, I expect Bradbury to be back in the starting lineup when fully healthy. But kudos to Cole for playing well of late, and for the Vikings front office for swinging that trade for him this offseason.
Minnesota sent a sixth-round pick to Arizona for Cole, who has brought reliable depth and an ability to step in when called upon.
The Vikings have had 26 draft picks the last two years. Which ones are setting themselves up to be big contributors next year when we will need them as starters?
— Kerry Watkins
I promise I'm going to answer Kerry's question in full, but I just realized we're 1,000-plus words into this Mailbag and haven't mentioned a key player from Sunday's victory.
The performance he put on out in Southern California was dazzling, and even more impressive than his nine-catch, 143-yard day in the box score showed.
He looked like one of the league's top receivers out there, making an acrobatic catch here, ripping the ball out of the air there or just gliding around the turf.
No, Jefferson didn't find the end zone against the Chargers. But he was the team's offensive MVP on a day where the Vikings made it a focal point for the offense to go through him with 11 targets.
I could spend many more words on JJ, but onto the answer to Kerry's email.
In my mind, the Vikings have five current starters among the past two draft classes: Jefferson, Ezra Cleveland, D.J. Wonnum, Christian Darrisaw and Kene Nwangwu (I'm including kick returner as a starter).
Cameron Dantzler and Camryn Bynum have been starting of late, but their spots will likely be filled by the returns of Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith. (For what it's worth, I included Wonnum as a starter because he began the year as one, and now is one since Danielle Hunter is out for the season. Dantzler and Bynum are fill-ins for now).
If we look at potential impact players for next year, K.J. Osborn and Kenny Willekes come to mind. Osborn has taken a step forward as the team's No. 3 wide receiver and will be counted upon to help boost the passing attack. Willekes showed early promise at defensive end, and he's a guy I'm excited to watch the rest of this season once he returns from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
As for three players who likely won't play much in 2021 but could be contributors next year: Zach Davidson, Chazz Surratt and Wyatt Davis.
Davidson was described as "raw as sushi" by draft expert Dane Brugler of The Athletic coming out of Division II Central Missouri this spring. He showed as much by having some ups and downs in training camp and the preseason but has a tremendous amount of intrigue.
Surratt is included here just because of the uncertainty at linebacker going forward. Eric Kendricks isn't going anywhere (and is playing like an All-Pro), but Anthony Barr and Nick Vigil are scheduled to be free agents in the spring. Surratt is still somewhat new to linebacker because he began his college career as a quarterback, but he has plenty of athleticism and could factor in if he progresses in the next year.
Many expected Davis to compete for the starting right guard spot in training camp, but that battle with Udoh never materialized. But with Udoh struggling with the aforementioned penalties, perhaps Davis gets another chance next spring to win that job.
Udoh came out for a play against the Ravens, and it was actually tackle Blake Brandel who stepped in at right guard even though Davis was active. Zimmer said Davis was "not really" a consideration to go in there, and later expanded on his progress in 2021.
"I think he's coming along. He's still a young guy, so he's still got work to do."
Perhaps this redshirt season will be beneficial to Davis, who seemingly had the pedigree coming out of Ohio State to make his mark in the NFL. But he'll have to earn that playing time next season.
Do you think Kellen Mond will be ready next year?
— Demarous Davis
You probably noticed I did not mention Mond in the above answer. Part of that is because I knew Demarous' question would end this Mailbag. And part of that is because quarterback is such an important position that it likely deserves a separate answer.
Let's recap where we stand with the three quarterbacks on the Vikings roster.
Cousins has one year left on his current deal and is scheduled to make $45 million in 2021. That is slated to be the third-highest cap hit in the league behind Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers.
Sean Mannion is Cousins' backup and will be a free agent in 2022.
Mond was a 2021 third-round pick (66th overall) and was the seventh overall QB taken in the draft.
So, what does the future hold for this group?
Truth be told, we don't know the answer to that question yet. A lot depends on how the rest of the 2021 season plays out and what the Vikings look like next spring. These next eight games will tell us a lot about the future of this franchise.
I will say that Mond showed flashes during the preseason of why he was a third-round pick. He started slowly out of the gate but looked to be in a better rhythm in the preseason finale in Kansas City, which was the last time we saw him on the field. Sure, he has been practicing, but all of his work in the past two-plus months has been behind the scenes.
On the flip, it was noticeably obvious in the spring and summer that Mond had a long way to go. There was a reason he was getting fourth-string reps in spring practices.
The latest update we got on Mond was about a month ago from Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman.
"We see him out here practicing, in how he's progressing every day," Spielman said. "[Vikings quarterbacks coach] Andrew Janocko has done a phenomenal job with him, even keeping him out there after practice every day and going through things and continuing his development."
I wrote then that the Vikings were in a good position at quarterback because they had a veteran starter and a developing youngster in the position room.
Is either the long-term Vikings quarterback? I don't know. And I'm not sure anyone does right now.
As I also wrote in mid-October, the quarterback spot will be one of the top offseason storylines for the Vikings in 2022.