When the Minnesota Vikings took the field against the Los Angeles Chargers, they knew that any realistic hope of winning the NFC North was all but gone, as the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears 21-13. They still controlled their playoff destiny with the sixth seed, but to ensure a playoff spot they needed to keep winning and keep one game clear of the other Los Angeles team, the Rams.
All the Vikes needed to do was to win on the road, outside, on grass, a trifecta Minnesota hasn’t been very good at doing in recent years. They started off strong, taking the opening drive 75 yards in 10 plays, culminated by a Kirk Cousins to Irv Smith, Jr., one yard TD pass. Kyle Rudolph had two big plays on that drive, taking a short Kirk Cousins pass for 21 yards and then drawing a pass interference penalty in the end zone, setting up the Smith TD.
Dan Bailey missed the extra point, and the Vikings had a 6-0 lead. Kickers, amirite?
The Chargers took their opening drive, and thanks to two big Philip Rivers to Mike WIlliams third and long conversions, LA managed to get to the Vikings 23 before their drive stalled out. Michael Badgley’s field goal attempt was good from 41 yards, and it was 6-3 Vikings.
The VIkings second drive stalled out around midfield, and after a nice Britton Colquitt punt pinned the Chargers inside their five, Danielle Hunter forced a Melvin Gordon III fumble on third down, the Vikings recovered, and were in business at the Chargers 11. However, the Vikings couldn’t get in the end zone, and a 26 yard field goal by Bailey on the first play of second quarter gave the Vikings a 9-3 lead.
The Chargers took the ball on their third drive,and after two more third and long conversions, went 75 yards in 10 plays, finding the end zone on a Rivers to Williams two yard touchdown pass. After the Badgley extra point (huh, weird) the Chargers had a 10-9 lead with 8:42 left in the second quarter.
Minnesota answered with a 10 play, 49 yard drive that ended in a 44 yard Bailey field goal. The highlights of that drive was a long third down conversions by the Vikings this time. On third and 7, Cousins found Adam Thielen for 13 yards to extend the drive, but a pass to Irv Smith into the end zone on their next third down attempt was broken up, but the field goal gave Minnesota a 12-10 lead with 4:17 left in the half.
The Vikings defense came up big on LA’s ensuing drive. On third and 17 from their 29, Philip Rivers was picked off by Harrison Smith near midfield, and at the two minute warning the Vikings were in great position to add another score heading into the locker room.
But the Vikings offense gave it right back. After getting down to the Chargers 29, Kirk Cousins tried to float a screen pass to Ameer Abdullah, but it was intercepted by DE Melvin Ingram.
The Chargers drove deep into Vikings territory, getting to the 26, but the Vikings defense once again made a huge play. On 2nd and two, Rivers dropped back but was heavily pressured and sacked by Hunter. Hunter forced his second fumble of the day on the sack, and after some rumblin’, bumblin’, and stumblin, Ifeadi Odenigbo ended up with the ball in his hands, and 56 yards later he was in the end zone, giving the Vikings a 19-10 halftime lead.
The Chargers took the second half kickoff and...stop me if you’ve heard this before...turned the ball over on the very first play. Shamar Stephen forced a Melvin Gordon fumble, and—-stop me if you’ve heard this name—Hunter picked it up and the Vikings were in business deep in Chargers territory.
On first down, Dalvin Cook was injured carrying the ball, the Vikings couldn’t convert a first down, and once again the Vikings had to settle for a Dan Bailey field goal, this time from 38 yards, making the score 22-10.
Minnesota’s defense and special teams made the difference on LA’s next drive. The defense forced a three and out, and after Eric WIlson partially blocked Ty Long’s punt, once again Minnesota was set up with great field position, starting their drive from the LA 41.
Cousins had a nifty naked bootleg keeper for a big first down, but on third and short, CJ Ham was stopped short on a quick swing pass, and the drive ended with—stop me if you’ve heard THIS one—Dan Bailey’s fourth field goal of the day, this time from 27 yards, making the score 25-10 Vikings.
The Chargers took the ensuing kickoff and methodically marched the Chargers offense down the field. From the Vikings 35 facing a fourth and two, Rivers found Hunter Henry for 24 yards, getting up a first and 10 from the Vikings 11. But Minnesota’s defense forced another fourth down conversion attempt, and instead of trying for three, the Chargers went for a 4th and nine from the Vikings 10. After a Russel Okung false start, 4th and nine became 4th and 14, and a Rivers pass into the end zone fell incomplete as the third quarter ended.
Taking over from their own 15, the Vikings cut through LA like a hot knife through the butter that was the Chargers defense. Relying on the arm of Cousins and the legs of Mike Boone, who replaced the injured Cook, the Vikings went 85 yards in seven plays. Cousins hit Rudolph for 22 yards to open the drive, near midfield. After a holding penalty on Tyler Conklin put the Vikings in a big 3rd and 14 situation from their own 46, Cousins rolled out right and hit Stefon Diggs for 46 yards. On the next play, Boone went over from the eight and the Vikes went up 32-10, ending the competitive phase of this football game.
The Chargers turned the ball over again on the first play of their ensuing drive. On first down, Hunter Henry took a short pass, but Eric Kendricks forced a fumble, and Trae Waynes scooped up the ball and got to the LA 10 before being tackled. After another Mike Boone TD run from two yards made it 39-10, something magical came across my Twitter Feed from #oldfriend Arif Hasan:
At 39-10, the Vikings have as many points against the Chargers in 2019 as Donovan McNabb had passing yards in 2011— Arif Hasan, nondenominational holiday supporter ⛄ (@ArifHasanNFL) December 15, 2019
Mike Hughes picked off Rivers on the next drive because lol five turnovers wasn’t enough. Taking over on their own 20, and content to eat the clock by running the ball, Minnesota wasn’t able to overcome a couple holding penalties. After another sterling Colquitt punt pinned the Chargers at their five, Minnesota was content to let the Chargers get yards for time, and end the game. Philip Rivers wasn’t content with six turnovers, so he threw one more interception, this time to Anthony Harris. Sean Mannion led the Victory Formation and the game ended 39-10.
With the win, the Vikings move to 10-4 on the year and hold on to the sixth seed in the NFC. Combined with the Rams losing big to the Cowboys (they were down 34-7 in the fourth quarter at the time of this writing), Minnesota moves to the cusp of securing a playoff spot, as they would lead the Rams by two games with two to play, if that score holds up. A Minnesota win or a Los Angeles loss gives the Vikings the sixth seed, and they still have an outside chance at the NFC North with the Packers coming to town next week. The Rams will head to San Francisco.