While most of the starters were pulled earlier than expected, that revised plan played well for one Viking, who got an extended opportunity in the wake of injuries. Plus, get more than two dozen other game notes.
Friday was supposed to be a pressure-packed night for second-year running back Adimchinobe Echemandu
. The plan was for he and Butchie Wallace to share the carries in just the second half of the Vikings' 19-16 win over the Chargers. But fate stepped in and gave Echemandu a chance to shine.
"Initially, the first team was supposed to play into the third quarter," Echemandu told VU. "But late in the week, Michael Bennett
came up with a neck injury and Butchie (Wallace) and I were told we were going to get more reps and have an opportunity to play more."
Echemandu, a player clearly on the bubble for the Vikings, made the most of his opportunity – which came earlier than even he expected. When Mewelde Moore
went down with an ankle sprain in the second quarter, Echemandu got his chance to get in with the first team. He responded by catching a pair of 14-yard passes and finishing off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown – the only TD the Vikings would score in the game.
Echemandu finished with a game-leading 14 carries for 55 yards and the two receptions for 28 more. With his Vikings career hanging in the balance, he came up with a strong performance when he needed it most.
"This is a dream come true for me to play in the NFL," Echemandu said. "To be in this league is a blessing. I'm just thankful coach Tice has given me this opportunity."
Echemandu got his chance to play thanks to injuries to Bennett, Moore and Ciatrick Fason
, but he knows all too well that injuries are a part of the game – something that helped him Friday, but has hurt him in the past. The misfortunes of others have often created job openings for backups, and Echemandu is happy that he got his chance on the weekend when his number could get called by the Turk.
"In the NFL, you need to have depth," Echemandu said. "I missed a couple of years in college with a torn ACL and a broken leg. I've been on the other side and know how it goes. That's just how football is – people get hurt."
While his spot on the roster is far from secure, Echemandu did his best to make the decision to cut him – if it comes – a much more difficult proposition after his performance Friday.
Vikings coach Mike Tice said that the team will make its first round of cuts Monday morning after the coaching staff meets Sunday to discuss which positions and players will be the first to go.
Paul Edinger made a strong case for making the team after he got all the work Friday. The intention was to split time with Edinger and Aaron Elling, but a leg injury to Elling in the pregame warmups put the pressure on Edinger to have a one-man audition process. He came through in a big way, kicking all of his kickoffs inside the 5-yard line and making all four of his field goal attempts – including a 50-yarder that had room to spare when it hit the screen beyond the goal post.
The already-thin Vikings running backs corps, which was shorthanded without Michael Bennett or Ciatrick Fason, took another hit when Mewelde Moore twisted an ankle in the second quarter and didn't return. The injury is to the same ankle that sidelined Moore for almost two months in 2004.
Both Vikings centers – Cory Withrow and Adam Goldberg – got work with the first-team offense Friday.
The Vikings offense was efficient throughout the game. It crossed midfield on nine of its 10 drives during the game.
A total of 24 different players caught passes in the game – 13 for the Chargers and 11 for the Vikings.
Despite the Vikings' domination of the first half in time of possession (17:39) and total yards (281 to 108 for the Chargers), the Vikings were just one of six in third-down situations. For the game, the Vikings converted just three of 11 third-down plays.
The Vikings held the San Diego quarterbacks to just eight completions on 17 attempts, including a pathetic 4 of 11 for 15 yards by second-year phenom Philip Rivers.
The Vikings' first-line receivers looked very solid in the first half, with Nate Burleson catching five passes for 97 yards and Travis Taylor snagging four passes for 51 yards.
Rookie Troy Williamson was the target of just two passes from Daunte Culpepper – an overthrow on a 50-yard pass and a 36-yard completion.
During practice this week, the Vikings brought in three Big Ten officials to work practices – an attempt to cut down on the 31 penalties the team had taken in the first preseason game. It seemed to work. After an iffy start in which the Vikings had three penalties in the first four minutes, the team had just two in the final 56 minutes.
The Chargers may want to take the Vikings' lead – they had 13 penalties Friday night.
If the Vikings offense had a problem Friday, it was in the red zone, where they converted just one of four drives into a touchdown.
For Vikings punter Darren Bennett, Friday was the first game he played against the Chargers.
Prior to the game, the fans at the Metrodome observed a moment of silence in honor of San Francisco offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, who collapsed and died last weekend following a preseason game.
On his first carry of the game, Mewelde Moore ran for 16 yards – only three yards less than starter Michael Bennett gained in 12 carries during the first two preseason games.
The Chargers burned the Vikings defense on the first drive of the game, converting on three third downs – including a 16-yard run by Michael Turner and a 17-yard TD pass to Keenan McCardell. On that drive, the Chargers had four offensive plays of 16 yards or more. After that, the only points the Chargers second team and beyond would score on were points that came via field goals until a late TD cut the deficit to three points – angering those who opted to call Las Vegas before kickoff time.
Daunte Culpepper had another nice outing, completing 12 of 14 passes for 197 yards before being replaced by Brad Johnson in the middle of a second-quarter drive.
Friday's game was the first time in three preseason games that the Vikings didn't score first.
Marty Schottenheimer was serious about not putting his key starters in jeopardy. RB LaDainian Tomlinson didn't play and QB Drew Brees was done after the first series.
It shouldn't have come as any surprise that Tomlinson didn't play. In his career, Tomlinson has just 14 rushes in the preseason.
Matt Wilhelm of the Chargers may have set an NFL record in the second quarter. He was called for a flagrant facemask foul on Nate Burleson and five officials simultaneously threw flags at Wilhelm – most of which landed in a pile about three feet away from Wilhelm.
There were several reunions that took place Friday, including Fred Smoot and Marty Schottenheimer (who were together in Washington), Travis Taylor and Reche Caldwell (who both played for Florida) and Brad Johnson and Keenan McCardell (who were teammates on the Buccaneers when Tampa won the Super Bowl).
There were also reunions among the Vikings coaches – wide receivers coach Wes Chandler played seven seasons with the Chargers and defensive line coach Brian Baker held the same position with the Chargers.
Among the inactives Friday were Vikings Michael Bennett, Matt Birk, Ciatrick Fason, Kelly Campbell and Anthony Herrera and the Chargers wide receivers Eric Parker and Vincent Jackson.
In a twist of irony, Matt Birk was on the cover of "Gameday" – the in-house program sold at the Metrodome.
For those who love meaningless and potentially inaccurate stats, the paid attendance Friday was announced at 64,172 – a new preseason record for the Vikings. However, a few thousand of those fans were disguised as empty seats.