Both squads were looking to avoid an 0–3 start because the odds of making the postseason with the dreaded record are slim, but the consequences for the loser were as distinct as this winless matchup with different names.
With the Chargers prevailing, 28–24, in Minneapolis, Brandon Staley won’t have to hear Stephen A. Smith and other TV talking heads scream at the top of their lungs Monday morning that the Chargers should fire him. There will probably be mentions of it, because Staley recklessly decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 24-yard line, giving the Vikings another opportunity to steal the game.
But Staley’s defense finally came through for him after Kenneth Murray’s interception in the end zone sealed Los Angeles’s first win of the season. The Chargers would likely have avoided the consequences of losing their coach had they lost to the Vikings, but they now see light in the hole they dug themselves and can proceed with their postseason aspirations with a roster loaded with Pro Bowlers.
For the Vikings, who had a clunky final drive, they’re now looking to join the 2018 Texans as the only teams in the past 25 years that have made the postseason after starting 0–3. The exclusivity of that club illustrates RedZone host Scott Hanson's assertion that starting 0–3 in the NFL is practically a death sentence.
Now, the Vikings could be in the running for USC quarterback Caleb Williams should their season continue to go backward. Minnesota decided against signing Kirk Cousins to another fully-guaranteed contract extension in the offseason, so it remains to be seen whether they will start looking to the future.
The Vikings have been trying to win games and they might continue doing so, but they operated in the offseason as a team in the midst of a rebuild. So, the competitive Vikings are acting as if they are preparing for a loaded 2024 quarterback draft class with Williams, North Carolina’s Drake Maye and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders—if those talented signal-callers decide to enter the draft.
The disappointing Chargers—who have a franchise quarterback with Justin Herbert—have plenty of hope, but they didn’t leave Minnesota unscathed. Wide receiver Mike Williams left the game late in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury.
Williams has bailed out the Chargers several times in crunch time the past few years, and recorded a 49-yard touchdown pass from Keenan Allen on a double-pass play to give Los Angeles a 21–10 advantage in the third quarter. If Williams has a serious injury, the Chargers do have depth behind Allen with promising receivers Joshua Palmer and first-round rookie Quentin Johnston.
Staley’s defense struggled again, but it at least elevated its game to a bend-but-don’t-break approach. The Chargers stopped the Vikings on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line to preserve their 28–24 advantage with 2:57 left in regulation.
Going back to the winless Vikings, they have shot themselves in the foot constantly through three games. Tight end T.J. Hockenson recorded the Vikings’ seventh lost fumble of the season after safety Alohi Gilman took it from his hands on the Chargers’ 26-yard line in the first quarter. The Vikings nearly had another fumble in the first half, but luckily for them, the officials determined Alexander Mattison was stopped before he lost the football. Minnesota fans might have turned off the TV then and there had the Vikings matched their fumble total from the 2022 season two-and-a-half games into this season.
The turnover certainly didn’t help, but it was surprising the Vikings struggled early offensively against a Chargers’ defense that has consistently allowed explosive plays downfield this season. Wisely, Cousins emphasized feeding Jefferson to get the offense going on their first scoring drive Sunday. Jefferson didn’t see his first target until 9:37 in the second quarter, a 21-yard reception followed by a 34-yard catch before Cousins connected with tight end Josh Oliver for a four-yard touchdown to tie the game 7–7 midway through the second quarter.
Herbert also fed his reliable No. 1 target, Allen, to ignite the offense—nine receptions for 84 yards in the first half. He finished with a career-high 215 yards on 18 receptions. Herbert was nearly perfect heading into the locker room, with two touchdown passes to tight end Donald Parham and completing 26 of his first 30 passes for 187 yards. Herbert finished 40-of-47 for 405 yards and no turnovers.
With running back Austin Ekeler ruled out for the second consecutive game, it was on Herbert to carry the offense, especially after he struggled in overtime during the Week 2 loss to the Titans. He mostly came through, but the offense left with a sour taste after failing to get the one yard on Joshua Kelley’s fourth-down run.
As for the Vikings, they avoided a worst-case scenario after Jefferson got up under his own power after being down on the field during the final drive. But now the Vikings might have to ask themselves: Should they look to the draft for a new quarterback for Jefferson?