All NFL games are 60 minutes in duration (or longer), but many of them can won in a very finite window of those 60 minutes. In Sunday’s 23-10 win by the Minnesota Vikings over the San Diego Chargers, the game was effectively decided in the final two minutes of the first half and the first two minutes of the second half.
Minnesota was feeling more frustration than anything else for much of the first half because, despite getting the ball inside the 10-yard line on their first two drives, they came away with just two Blair Walsh field goals. When a defensive gaffe led to a 39-yard touchdown run by Melvin Gordon of the Chargers, the Vikings trailed 7-6 despite dominating most of the action to that point.
For the offensive line it was a source of frustration that needed to be remedied.
“We were happy about some things, but not with others,” guard Brandon Fusco said. “Red zone offense was a priority this offseason, so coming away with two field goals when we were inside the 10-yard wasn’t what we wanted or can continue to do. But the two-minute drive at the end of the half built up some confidence for us.”
There was no guarantee that the spark in the final two minutes would come. Starting from their own 22-yard line, had Matt Asiata not popped a 5-yard run that had Teddy Bridgewater run another play before the two-minute warning – a 6-yard pass to Charles Johnson, the drive may have been watered down.
Instead, Bridgewater completed three straight passes – a 19-yard strike to Johnson, a 22-yard sideline pass to Stefon Diggs and a 27-yard seed over the middle to Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown, showing the Vikings can do a lot of damage in a small window of time.
“In a two-minute situation, you have to make those kinds of plays because you don’t have time to dink-and-dunk the ball down the field,” Rudolph said. “That’s one of the best two-minute drives I remember us having since we’ve been together over the last three years. It all starts with the quarterback and the throws that he made – to Charles to Diggs and to me. It’s amazing how the entire offense worked together. People may forget that the first play was a run. If we don’t pick up good yardage on that, we might have shut it down and gone to halftime. The offensive line did its job and the rest of us followed from there. Everyone had a hand in that one.”
With a 12-10 lead heading into halftime, the Vikings came out in the second half on defense and defensive end Justin Trattou showed that the other side of the ball could strike just as quickly. On the third play of the half, Trattou hit quarterback Kellen Clemens from behind, popping the ball loose for teammate Stephen Weatherly to recover on the San Diego 17-yard line.
Trattou has been a playmaker in limited duty and has a propensity for making plays when his number is called.
“I just go out there and feel confident in my ability to make plays when I’m on the field,” Trattou said. “On that play, I stuck to my assignment and my responsibility and (Clemens) drifted my way and was able to get his arm. Those are the types of plays we look to get as a defense and you have to make them when they come your way.”
It wasn’t always an artistic success in the home opener for the Vikings, but both sides of the ball showed the explosiveness that can make four of the 60 minutes of a game make all the difference in the world.
GAME DAY NOTES
- Several key Vikings didn’t play, including Adrian Peterson, Matt Kalil, Everson Griffen, John Sullivan and Xavier Rhodes.
- The Vikings now have an 11-1 preseason record under Mike Zimmer, tying for the most wins in the first three seasons for any Vikings head coach. Dennis Green also had 11 wins, but those came in 14 games from 1992-94 and Bud Grant posted a record of 10-6 in his first three years as head coach (1967-69).
- The second- and third-team defense did a solid job protecting the lead, shutting out San Diego in the second half.
- The Vikings outgained San Diego 326-286, despite running four fewer plays (59 to 63 for the Chargers).
- Both teams converted 38 percent of their third downs – the Vikings converting five of 13 and San Diego making good on six of 16 attempts.
- The Vikings offensive line allowed five sacks, something that is sure not to sit well with the coaching staff despite a dominating win.
- The Vikings have won their preseason home opener in each of the last three stadiums they’ve called home, with the only loss coming from the rag-tag inaugural 1961 Vikings at Met Stadium.
- One thing sure to get up the ire of Zimmer is that the Vikings got in the red zone five times and came away with just one touchdown or the game would have been even further out of reach.
- Gordon didn’t score a rushing touchdown all of his rookie season in San Diego, but popped a 39-yard TD against the Vikings. Linebacker Audie Cole shot a gap in the offensive line on a blitz, but instead tackled Philip Rivers and allowed Gordon into the hole he vacated.
- Jerick McKinnon led the Vikings with 56 yards on eight carries.
- The three Vikings quarterbacks were all extremely efficient. Bridgewater had a passer rating of 127.3, completing 12 of 16 passes for 161 yards and one touchdown. Both Hill and Joel Stave had passer ratings of 112.5, Stave completed five of six passes for 66 yards and Hill completing his only pass for 11 yards.
- Nineteen different players caught passes – 10 for San Diego and nine for Minnesota. Diggs led the way with five catches for 71 yards.
- Two of San Diego’s final three drives ended with interceptions as the Vikings closed out the game. Both of the picks at the end were by rookies. Mackensie Alexander, who dropped an easy interception earlier in the half, got one and safety Jayron Kearse grabbed his second pick of the year in the fourth quarter as well.
- Trattou likely earned his roster spot if he hadn’t already. On Sunday, he tied for the team lead with four tackles, had both of the Vikings sacks and forced a fumble.
- Late in the third quarter with the game still in doubt, the Vikings defense made a stand inside their own 40-yard line. Facing a second-and-2 play from the 39-yard line, San Diego ran three straight times, getting stuffed on all three to turn the ball over on downs – marking the third straight game the Vikings have stopped an opponent on a fourth-and-1 play.
- The Vikings tight ends had some problems holding onto the ball. Both Rudolph and Pruitt had fumbles in San Diego territory. Rudolph’s was recovered by San Diego, but Pruitt’s fumble was knocked into the end zone and recovered for a touchdown by Cordarrelle Patterson.
- Vikings fans may have got their first glimpse of things to come when rookie Laquon Treadwell scored a on a 2-point conversion in the third quarter. He was singled up on the outside and Hill threw a fade pattern to Treadwell that had him in a jump ball situation that he won. The Vikings expect Treadwell to be a dangerous red zone threat this season as he adapts to the pro game.
- Both teams moved the ball effectively in the first half – the Vikings gaining 224 yards and San Diego gaining 181. In the second half, Minnesota gained 102 yards, while San Diego gained 105.
- The Vikings dominated the first quarter stats, outgaining San Diego 100-33. The Vikings had 78 rushing yards on nine carries, including 53 on six carries by McKinnon. Diggs had three receptions, accounting for 29 of the Vikings 31 receiving yards. Rivers had a passer rating of just 14.2 in the first quarter, completing two of five passes for 22 yards with an interception.
- The first turnover at U.S. Bank Stadium was provided by Harrison Smith, who caught a caromed pass that was deflected away from Keenan Allen by Trae Waynes and popped the ball in the air, where Smith could pull it down.
- The Vikings made good on the turnover with a second field goal drive that stalled inside the 10-yard line. The drive was highlighted by a 22-yard scramble by Bridgewater in which he put a move on San Diego safety Adrian Phillips that made him look sick.
- The Vikings got off to a fast start, taking the opening kickoff and driving 68 yards to the San Diego 5-yard line, thanks to 47 rushing yards on three carries from McKinnon and a pair of first-down passing conversions from Bridgewater to Diggs. The drive stalled at the 5-yard line, but Walsh scored the first points at U.S. Bank Stadium with a 23-yard field goal.
- David Plummer, a former University of Minnesota swimmer who won a gold and bronze at the Rio Olympics, sounded the Gjallarhorn prior at the start of the game.
- The paid attendance was 66,143, the largest home crowd ever for a Vikings game. Technically, the record set at Wembley Stadium against Pittsburgh two years ago may stand forever. The game was played in front of more than 80,000 British fans.