VikesChargersUFR
VikesChargersUFR

Kirk Cousins zipped -- and feathered -- the football. Dalvin Cook ran with authority.

In a matchup loaded with receiving talent, Justin Jefferson forged the best performance.

We’ll say it louder for the peeps in the back: Jefferson was in a league of his own.

Minnesota’s defense was clutch … at times. And the Vikings played well enough in both halves to prevail 27-20 at SoFi Stadium on Sunday against the tempered down Los Angeles Chargers.

By no means did the Vikes’ fourth win this season come easily. But it wasn’t nearly as challenging as they’ve made it for themselves in so many other instances the first eight games of the 2021 campaign.

We’ll start with the defense, which gave us all a crappy dose of déjà vu at the beginning of the third quarter when Los Angeles marched straight down the field on 10 plays to take a 17-13 advantage.

However, that same defense forced punts on the next two Chargers possessions, and limited an offense that was averaging about 385 total yards per contest entering Week 10, to a paltry figure of 253.

The leader of Minnesota’s upstart defense Sunday was linebacker Eric Kendricks, playing just 25 miles from his college stomping grounds at UCLA. Kendricks made eight stops for the Vikings, registered one sack and flashed his insane athleticism in the second quarter by picking off quarterback Justin Herbert.

As good as Kendricks and his group performed -- at times -- the Vikings offense very well could have played the best defense of the day by controlling the clock, thus freezing Herbert in a cooled-off funk.

Minnesota put together drives of 10, 11, 12 and 10 plays and kept its offense on the field for nearly 40 minutes. The “Chef” played a critical part in devouring the clock, and while his numbers weren’t huge -- Cook rushed 24 times for 94 yards -- each of his 27 total touches inflicted hearty punishment.

Cousins, in classic Kirk fashion, completed 25 of 37 throws (67.6%) for 294 yards and two scores. The first of the touchdowns was whistled into the belly of tight end Tyler Conklin from five yards out. The second came on a fourth-and-1 lob to Conklin in the end zone that sailed over a blockade of Chargers defenders.

Los Angeles fought ‘til its bitter end. Minnesota simply fought harder.

Here’s our Chargers-Vikings recap:

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Jefferson, aka, “JJettas.” Hands down. Minnesota’s superstar wide receiver did everything but score a touchdown. He secured nine of 11 looks for 143 yards -- his 10th career 100-yard receiving game, which ranks 10th in team history -- and showed us why he’s a top-10 player at his position. When Jefferson wasn’t adding to his yardage total, he was drawing and moving the chains with defensive penalties. The second-year receiver was a nuisance to Los Angeles’ secondary -- he also waged a friendly war with Chargers wideout Keenan Allen, who was seated on the bench, by flicking him the football (boss move) -- and made one spectacular catch in particular where he defied gravity and twisted his body in midair to bring down a 27-yard Cousins pass on the Vikes go-ahead touchdown drive late in the third quarter.

Let us not overlook Jefferson’s other 27-yard pickup, one of the more pivotal moments of the game. The acrobatic snag with under three minutes remaining essentially suckerpunched a Chargers defense that was just a down away from retrieving the ball for Herbert with the aim of compiling a game-tying drive.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

The last two games have evoked the opposite reaction -- it’s impossible to highlight Minnesota’s defense without highlighting this player’s, well, highlights -- but because of what might result in a snap decline when veteran safety Harrison Smith rejoins the unit off the reserve/COVID-19 list, we want to make sure to put some respect on Camryn Bynum’s name. One week after making his first NFL start -- and notching 12 tackles and one absurdly cool interception off Lamar Jackson -- the fourth-round rookie from Cal collected his first career sack. In the middle of the third quarter Sunday, Bynum crept down from his safety spot, shot himself out of his stance -- entirely undetected behind Sheldon Richardson’s pass rush -- and blitzed the 2020 offensive rookie of the year up the gut. The 6-foot, 200-pound native of Corona, Calif. -- less than an hour's drive from L.A. -- who prides himself on being a technician, held onto Herbert’s lower half for dear life and gator-rolled him to the ground. Bynum wound up tallying six tackles on the afternoon -- tied for second most on the team -- to go along with one pass defensed, and his sack. That’s one heckuva encore. … And, more proof that Bynum has what it takes to cut into Smith’s snap count.

THAT MOMENT

Cousins didn’t flinch facing third-and-20 with 2:39 left in the game. He also didn’t settle for the typical check down yards short of the sticks. He dialed up his zip, and hit Adam Thielen in stride on an in-breaking route across the deep middle portion of the field that shaved 18 yards off the ensuing fourth down. The chunk play allowed Minnesota to line up and ice the game with a short conversion -- courtesy who else but Cook, who collected a toss from Cousins seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, followed C.J. Ham around the right end, stuck his foot in the ground and beelined north with conviction.

THIS NUMBER

118.

Certainly too low a number to be Minnesota’s net yardage through the air. And, actually higher than the Vikes rushing attack -- Minnesota turned 33 carries into 103 yards (3.1 yards per rush). Slightly worried, yet? The correct answer is penalty yards. Oh boy. The Vikings were docked and overcame 118 yards Sunday, the most penalty yards they’ve accrued in a single game this season -- and the most since they had 131 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, 2017 (26-9 loss). Minnesota was flagged 10 times, its third game this year with double-digit penalties -- the club was penalized 11 times in the Week 6 overtime win against Carolina and 12 times in the season-opening OT loss to Cincinnati. That’s a whole lot of yellow laundry that needs to be cleaned ... up. For what it’s worth, Los Angeles amassed fewer than half (52) the Vikes’ penalty yards. We opted to point out Minnesota’s lack of discipline because the team managed to uncover a path to victory in spite of the mess on the field, which is commendable. For some perspective, it was the most penalty yards in a Vikings win since Sept. 18, 2016 vs. Green Bay (137; 17-14 victory) and the most in a road win since Sept. 21, 2003 against Detroit (125; 23-13).

THEY SAID IT

“I told [offensive coordinator] Klint [Kubiak], ‘Be aggressive here and try to go score.’ Unfortunately we got a first-and-20 on that drive, then we were fourth-and-two. There [was] no way we were not going to try to win the game right there.” -- Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer on rolling the dice on the final drive

“He always shows up. He didn’t get many balls last week. I know that he was very frustrated.” -- Zimmer on his steadfast confidence in Jefferson

“Dalvin is an extremely resilient and competitive person. He is a great team leader. I’m proud of him. I love the way he plays. I love the heart that he brings. He is one of my favorite players of all time.” -- Zimmer

“I don’t really know if Justin’s developed, I think he came to us a pretty good player. He’s just been that way ever since. Certainly, you feel a rapport with him over time and better understand him as a player, better understand what he’s capable of. I think that rapport will only continue to grow in the games up ahead.” -- Cousins on Jefferson

“That’s my dog. I love his route running, love the way he plays his game -- definitely been watching him for a long time [and] definitely steal some of his moves.” -- Jefferson on his relationship with Keenan Allen

WHAT’S NEXT

Minnesota heads home to host Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay (8-2), which defeated Seattle 17-0 in a frigid game at Lambeau Field on Sunday but lost star running back Aaron Jones to injury. Jones apparently suffered a sprained MCL but will undergo further testing. The Packers grip on the NFC North division seems impregnable -- the Vikings, however, are on the brink of reentering the NFC wild-card race and would benefit greatly from taking at least one of two tilts left on tap from the Packers.

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