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The Vikings went 0-for-September, falling Sunday 28-24 to the Chargers. The disappointing loss started with a fumble lost on Minnesota's opening possession and ended with an interception that bounced off Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson and Chargers safety JT Woods.
It included plenty of wild moments in between, with a heavy dose of blitzing by Minnesota that failed to hit home on Justin Herbert enough times and a double pass touchdown thrown by Keenan Allen to Mike Williams.
The Vikings moved the ball on multiple drives but seemed to take one step forward and two steps back with gains being followed by penalties or negative plays.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins played another strong game, with three more touchdown passes. He moved past Tommy Kramer (159) on the career touchdowns list among all Vikings and also for second all-time and tied Dave Krieg for 20th on the NFL's all-time leaderboard.
Minnesota was just 1-for-4 on trips to the red zone.
"Disappointing to be 0 and 3. Disappointing to lose the way we did. Left too many plays out there. You gotta score touchdowns in the red zone to win in this league," Cousins said in his opening comments at the podium Sunday. "Chargers did a good job, they made plays. And proud of the way guys battled. I think we've got a lot of playmakers on this team. Thought Justin [Jefferson] was his usual self. Thought T.J. was great. Thought Jordan Addison was big time. He's going to become a big-time player in this league. Thought K.J. [Osborn] was outstanding. So I'm just going to continue to be a point guard distribute to those guys and try to get better doing that every week. But we've dug ourselves a hole and we got a long way to climb out."
Hang on to the ball.
That's about it. Hang. On. To. The. Ball.
— Sandra Deneen
Dear Mailbag Team,
Could we please get to focusing on ball security?!
Best regards from Munich,
It's a real indicator on the first two weeks of the 2023 Vikings season when going minus-1 in the turnover margin is an improvement.
The fumble on the opening drive — after the Vikings had again moved into scoring territory — let quite a bit of air out of the building and provided an instant momentum transfer, with the Chargers quickly marching 79 yards for a touchdown.
Minnesota was even until the final play, but it also could have been much better…
The Chargers fumbled four times but only lost the ball one time, with Jordan Hicks recovering the ball.
Keenan Allen put the ball on the ground at the L.A. 43-yard line (Akayleb Evans was credited with the forced fumble) but recovered it in the second quarter.
Danielle Hunter knocked the ball away from Herbert during a sack, but the QB recovered the ball at the L.A. 31, allowing the Chargers to punt on fourth down and flipping the field with a 52-yarder that was by far JK Scott's best boot of the day. (The following drive ended with Jefferson's 52-yard touchdown, but perhaps the momentum could have swung even more?).
Harrison Smith also forced a fumble by tight end Gerald Everett in the fourth quarter, but the ball landed out of bounds a few plays before Herbert's most glaring mistake of the day — an underthrown pass bounced off Evans' hands and into Joshua Palmer's hands for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Chargers aren't reputed to have rabbit's foot luck as a franchise, but the bounce of that football, combined with the final pass for the Vikings deflecting to Murray, shows how snakebitten the start of this season has been.
But it could have been worse…
Alexander Mattison was ruled down before the ball came out on a 2-yard loss from the Chargers 3-yard line (the play stood as called after review).
Then, Osborn stretched the football across the goal line on his 36-yard touchdown. He made it inside the pylon, but seeing the ball bounce away on his landing brought back memories of Week 2.
In six quarters of football, the Vikings have lost the ball inside the opponent's 3-yard line in the waning moments of three separate halves. They have to stop doing that if they're going to dig out of this hole.
View game action photos from he Vikings vs. Chargers Week 3 at U.S. Bank Stadium
More mediocre play on both sides of the ball. Our 0-3 record is so well earned and deserved. We don't execute very well on either side of the ball, especially when it really matters. Our offense isn't very good on third downs? We can't cover or get consistent pressure on their QB, and we give up big plays and multiple long third-down conversions? We absolutely cannot cover [Keenan] Allen at all? We give up gadget play touchdowns of 50 yards? We do not take advantage of gifts from the Chargers? And we do things like call a 30-plus-yard pass on third-and-3 coming out of halftime, I don't get it.
Here are my 3 Ups and 3 Downs for the game:
1. Very nice TD drive mid-second quarter. Got Jefferson involved with back-to-back catches. Great play calls and great execution.
2. K.J.'s and Jefferson's TD receptions and runs. Wow.
3. Our fourth-down stop at the end. I am flabbergasted they actually went for it. Too bad we aren't good enough to take advantage of it.
1. Gave up another long and sustained drive after another turnover for a Chargers TD; defense couldn't make a stop at any point or even force a field goal on that drive.
2. The Vikings continue their weak and unacceptable play heading into halftime on both sides of the ball. First, we can't score a TD in the red zone. We dodge a turnover but then throw at their best defender, [Asante] Samuel, can't take advantage of their gift penalty and end up taking a field goal anyway. Then the defense gives up yet another end of the half touchdown scoring drive; we simply can't make a stop when it matters most. I think the Vikings taking defensive timeouts helped the Chargers with their play calls on the goal line and their decision to go for a TD on fourth down. And of course, we started the third quarter with a punt.
3. Illegal shift on fourth-and-goal absolutely cannot happen. So poor on every level. And the second-and-goal call from the 1 into the teeth of their defense for a loss of 2 was no better.
Overall, a disappointing and deserved loss. Looking forward to the Panthers.
— Respectfully, Jeff Ludwig
To borrow from Yogi Berra, there were parts of Sunday that were déjà vu all over again, including the long touchdown pass from Allen to Williams for a 21-10 lead in the third quarter. Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore burned the Vikings when he was with the Cowboys by having receiver Cedrick Wilson, Jr., launch a 35-yard pass at a pivotal moment of the game on Halloween 2021.
When Allen wasn't zooming behind the line of scrimmage to catch the lateral and toss an easy one to Williams, he was finding openings in Minnesota's zone defense. Herbert, was mostly unaffected by an onslaught of Vikings blitzes, and targeted Allen 20 times, resulting in a franchise-record 18 receptions for 215 yards, the most by a Charger against the Vikings in a single game.
While Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley has a reputation for being aggressive, I was surprised he went for it on fourth-and-1 as well. If they convert, they end the game and keep the ball away from a Vikings offense that had been moving the ball well. They did not, but the Vikings failed to capitalize on the gift.
That game represents the Vikings in a nutshell. Kirk Cousins puts up huge numbers for the stat sheet, but when it comes time to make a play, he can't do it. Two drives inside the 10 at the end of the game and zero points. Franchise quarterbacks get points on the board. Cousins gets 55 minutes of numbers for his stat line and nothing when it counts. Same as it has always been. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers had no running game, so Herbert and Allen just picked apart our "defense." When you know a team is going to pass and you do nothing to stop it, that's a really poor sign. I had this team as an 8-win team going into the season, but that's a pipe dream at this point. I've got my ticket for the Vikings-Raiders in December, and they won't have eight wins between them.
— Greg Robertson in Las Vegas
While there's no arguing that the Vikings didn't take advantage of golden opportunities in the fourth quarter, I would note that Cousins led eight game-winning drives last season, even though his stats were not quite as strong collectively as they've been at the start of this season.
The number of blitzes by the Vikings (40 of 49 dropbacks by Herbert, according to Next Gen Stats) was the second-highest blitz rate in the NGS era.
I have chimed in on the Mailbag before typically with thoughts or questions. I'm 66 and have been a diehard Vikings fan, watching the game with my Dad, longer than I can remember most other things.
Live, eat, breathe the Vikes.
Today I am pretty much the most disappointed as I have ever been watching the Vikes lose a game.
I am a retired high school swim coach, so I have heard more than my fair share of criticism and second guessing from people who had no idea as to what they were talking about.
I try to never second guess the decision-making process of people who know more about what they are doing than I do.
I am seriously befuddled about either O'Connell or Cousins not having the game management knowledge where to NOT CLOCK THE BALL with a first-and-goal rather than watch the Vikes offense aimlessly wander the field and burn up nearly 30 seconds of game clock. Then with only 10 plus seconds left to play, run a helter-skelter hurry up play.
Clock the ball, and you have three more tries.
Either O'Connell or Cousin's totally screwed up.
— Jon (diehard Vikes fan, but man you guys are making it tough) in Willow Park, Texas
Welcome back to the Mailbag, even under these circumstances.
We've long known that Viking fandom isn't for the feint of heart. Guessing there's some Vikings fans who have learned it doesn't look like Chargers fandom is either.
I guarantee there's no shortage among many of you who were saying (or screaming) "CLOCK IT!" when the Vikings got a fresh set of downs pm the fourth-and-5 pass to the L.A. 6.
Cousins was having difficulty hearing O'Connell in the headset device in his helmet. The home crowd was a little boisterous in celebrating the conversion and needed a reminder that the offense was at work, by the way.
Cousins said he never heard the call but got to the play that O'Connell would have called.
O'Connell's motivation was to try to go quickly before the Chargers could adjust or substitute, but that all resulted in a very frenetic sequence that led to the ball being snapped with 12 seconds remaining.
Then, Cousins said he tried to approach the pass to Hockenson as if it would be "ours or nobody's" by putting it a little off his body. If it wasn't going to be a catch, the idea was that the incompletion would stop the clock. But the bad bounce nixed any attempts at strategy and became the latest edition of "what if" for this year's team.
The most vanilla assembly of an offensive playbook in the NFL. If I have to watch first down be a run up the middle for no gain again, my head is going to blow off! I was hoping KOC had an imagination to create some good offensive flow. We are going to waste another fabulous receiver. I was born a fan in '61. It's a curse.
— Joe Grapevine in Corning, New York
The Vikings did want to run the ball better than they had in the first two weeks, which would hopefully help the team do better in time of possession.
There were multiple runs of 10-plus yards on Sunday after not having a single double-digit gain on the ground, but that was in part with the way the Chargers were playing shell defense and having two high safeties. It was an invitation of sorts to run the football.
I guess the most disappointing run of the day was from the Chargers 1-yard line. Minnesota went with a big personnel grouping, but Mattison was stuffed for a loss of 1. An incompletion to Jefferson was followed by another on which Jefferson was flagged for an illegal shift.
I think there's been plenty of schemed success, but it's been undermined by the team's fumble-it is and ability to finish off at the most important parts of the field.
Now that the Vikings are 0 and 3, we need to acknowledge that this is a rebuild. Please trade Kirk Cousins to the Jets. They have a chance with him at quarterback. Meanwhile, the Vikings can let Jefferson get healthy and let [Jaren] Hall get some experience this year. Then draft a top quarterback and build around him. It's our best chance for long-term success.
— Jeff Olds in Arroyo Grande, California
Now that the season is over, we have to look to the future and it's worrisome that we didn't get J.J. signed before the season.
If we don't go to Carolina and win, it's 0-5 after the Chiefs game.
J.J. could end up like [Stefon] Diggs and force his way out because [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] didn't do his job.
We have had one of the worst guards and center combination for years, and it never gets better.
Cousins has turned into a turnover machine, so it's time to explore getting something — high draft picks for him.
I went to three of the Super Bowls and had tickets before Gary Anderson missed his only kick that year, and we aren't even close to getting back. At 71, I've said SKOL so much, and it looks like I'm never seeing another trip to the Super Bowl ,much less winning one.
— Bryan Abrams
Well, 0-3 is quite unsightly, but it's actually not that foreign around here in recent years. The 2020 squad opened 0-3, then 1-5 before eventually rallying to a 6-6 mark. It seemed like the team emptied its bucket climbing out of that deficit, and three straight losses followed on the way to a 7-9 finish.
The 2021 team opened 0-2 by a combined four points, then dropped to 1-3 and 3-5 after an overtime loss at Baltimore before winning two, losing two and winning two to stand at 7-7. The Rams squad featuring O'Connell as the offensive coordinator dropped Minnesota before a loss at Lambeau Field and a season-ending moot win against Chicago.
The NFL's trade deadline is at the end of October, so there's a few more weeks to see if this season gets out of the mud.
I have never seen a team that can suck the momentum out of any situation. Time after time, we get into a good situation, with a little momentum, and the next thing you know, we're turning the ball over or we have a debilitating penalty or, in the case of J.J.'s touchdown, letting them drive right down the field after that.
The fans in the stadium are always great and do all they can with the noise, but then the momentum is sucked away when we can't make that third-down stop and the other team easily picks up a third-and-12. It is clear that the offense line is having glaring issues. Kirk does not have time to stand back there and look for a receiver. We have playmakers. Let's get the ball in their hands with quick passes. If we're going to play this defense, then we need to get there once in a while. Herbert was not worried about our rush or our blitzes and threw bullet after bullet to wide open receivers.
I don't understand why we didn't run up and clock the ball at the end. Would have had about 30 seconds and three plays to use. Did we not understand that we had a 1st down?? I was screaming at the TV, like hopefully every Vikings fan was to spike the ball.
We have a long way to go and now, a shorter time to get there.
— Sparky in Yankton, South Dakota
I thought the crowd was great when the Chargers had the ball at so many different moments, but Los Angeles has often fought through that, even in some of their home games. They didn't get rattled at all, and somehow converted a third-and-17 a play before the winning touchdown pass.
A stop on third-and-17, likely means a field goal at best and tie game at that point of the game, even with Staley's aggressiveness.
How much of the negative outside noise from media and fans affect the team and staff? Did the negativity from the last two games put more pressure on [Sunday's] game.
I like what I have been seeing from the team, every game has come down to 1 or 2 plays that made the difference between a win and a loss. Unfortunately, we were on the losing end.
I find it appalling that people are already talking about tanking for a good draft pick, trading away players, firing people, when only a few games have been played. I believe the Vikings can beat anyone in the NFL when they play their best football. I believe if they win enough games to make the playoffs they can go far. Even if they don't make the playoffs, I believe they can get J.J. to that 2k mark and several players to the Pro Bowl. I will be watching every second of every game because I believe this team will fight every second of every game, no matter the situation. Believe!
— Jean-paul Beaulieu
I think players and coaches are decent at tunnel vision and expect criticism when the team isn't winning. They know how much people care about football. When things go beyond where they should, like the hateful, racist comments sent anonymously to Mattison after the Eagles game, or players at other times, then that's beyond the line.
I do still think this team is talented, and I do believe it's an incredibly long season.
The 2022 Lions opened 1-6 and got to 9-8, which still wasn't enough to make the playoffs.
But it's concerning that mistakes seem to be continuing/new miscues appeared Sunday. It's also worrisome that Minnesota is 0-2 at home so far this season.
Appreciate your continued belief, and I also know the coaches and players still believe they can do some great things this season.