In the chaos that typically surrounds preseason games, often times the difference between winning and losing boils down to how important the coaches consider keeping their front-line players in the game. In Friday's 19-16 win for the Vikings, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer drew his own line in the sand and, in the process, orchestrated the turning point of the game.
Schottenheimer has long held the belief that the preseason is for players fighting to make the roster, not for the starters who have assumed their roles with the team. That point was proved early on.
The Chargers first-team offense was on the field for just one series and performed well – despite being without stars LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. The offense rolled 88 yards on 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead. But once that piece of business was completed, Schottenheimer shut down the offense – literally.
After putting the first points up, the Chargers started making wholesale changes on both sides of the ball. With many of the first-team defenders in on the second Vikings offensive series, Daunte Culpepper picked apart the defense with four passes of 11 yards or more and runs of 16 yards by Mewelde Moore and 14 yards by Moe Williams, but the Vikings had to settle for a 25-yard Paul Edinger field goal – keeping the Chargers ahead 7-3 with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
True to his word in earlier statements, Schottenheimer pulled his starters on both sides of the ball and the Vikings took full advantage. With Culpepper still on the field, the Vikings would score on three straight drives – all field goals – to take a 9-7 lead. Brad Johnson, who followed up Culpepper late in the third scoring drive and threw a touchdown on the next drive and, what had been a 7-0 lead when the Chargers offense was shut down was now a 16-7 deficit.
The Vikings would open up the second half with another score, as Johnson and the second-team offense scored against the Chargers second- and third-team defense to build a 19-7 lead at halftime.
Had Friday's contest been a regular-season game, the Chargers would have taken a completely different approach, but thanks to Schottenheimer's unwillingness to expose his players, Vikings fans saw a much different game – as Schottenheimer shut down his own team.
Turning Point: Chargers Shut It Down Early
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