The first victory of the season was almost taken away from the Chargers. They almost did win 28-24 against the Minnesota Vikings.
They almost dropped to 0-3, but the defense, which has been called into question numerous times to start the season, came through.
What should be talked about is quarterback Justin Herbert and receiver Keenan Allen’s performance or the late-game interception by Kenneth Murray, but it is about a questionable Brandon Staley’s 4th down decision making.
Herbert and the offense faced a 4th-and-one at their 24-yard line when Staley made the offense come back out. They put running back Joshua Kelley at full back and ran a “belly” with him, but he was stuffed.
“Just no timeouts, and it was less than a yard,” Staley explained. “We felt like we had to play to finish with the ball. We were protecting four points, not three. So, that was part of my thought process. I believe in our group; we came here to win.”
It was on their 24-yard line.
“It’s a yard, gotta get a yard,” Herbert said. “That’s on us as an offense to get that yard… We’ll get it next time.”
It seemed like both teams were playing hot potato with this game because after Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed a 4th-and-5 to T.J. Hockenson for the first down, they let the clock bleed for 30 seconds with no timeouts.
Twelve seconds were left on the clock when Cousins tried to return to his tight end in the end zone when linebacker Nick Niemann popped the ball up for a diving Murray to make the game-sealing interception.
Murray was given a game ball after the game by Staley.
“Well, today, continue to build off that I think the last two weeks we’ve rushed the quarterback at a high level but really building on our situational defense,” Staley said. “I thought the two-minute defense at the end of the half, and certainly the two-minute and then red zone defense at the end of the game, I thought our guys really came together and played well.”
The Chargers defense has been under fire the last two weeks after poor performances. They did allow receiver Justin Jefferson to score a 52-yard touchdown while accumulating seven passes for 149 yards and the touchdown.
This week, they finished the game on a high note without safety Derwin James, who went out with a hamstring injury. On the second to last drive, they faced six red zone plays from the Vikings and held them to a turnover on downs.
“Our red zone defense was outstanding, it won us the game,” Staley said.
It seemed like Herbert and Allen were on a different level on Sunday. Herbert had seven incompletions while throwing for 405 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“He’s one of the special players in the league, and we needed that today,” Staley said.
Allen, on the other hand, was unguardable.
The Vikings kept showing blitz and wanted to put pressure on Herbert, so the Chargers offense adjusted, started throwing quick passes, and moved the ball quickly.
“We know how special is Keenan, and anytime you get him one one-on-one, you gotta find ways to get him the ball,” Herbert said. “They brought a lot of pressure, and so we had to do our best to protect, block that up and get the ball out as quick as we can.”
Allen said he and Herbert spoke numerous times on the sideline about how to counter and attack the way Brian Flores’ defense attacked them.
“Defenses are defenses, bro,” Allen said. “Everybody on the field can know where the ball is going. But somebody’s got to make the play. You can point at it, you can say he’s going here, you can do all this, but you still gotta go stop it.”
The ball went to Allen 18 times for 215 yards, not only was a career-high in both categories, but he passed the great Lance Alworth as the most receiving yards by a wide receiver in team history.
“It really capped off one of those Maestro performances for him,” Staley said.
Allen had a first on Sunday. In the middle of the third quarter, Herbert threw a backward pass to Allen, who threw a pass to a wide-open Mike Williams. He walked into the end zone.
“Perfect form an incredible ball,” Herbert said of Allen’s throw. “So it is really cool for him to be able to throw it.”
Williams had a fantastic game, making seven catches for 121 yards and scoring the touchdown. He got hurt at the end of the third quarter. Staley didn’t have an update after the game on the severity of the injury.
Now, the Chargers have won their first game and had their best performance of the season in all three phases. They had too many penalties, accumulating 94 yards and some that led to points.
They knew how badly they needed this win. Last year, at this point, they were 1-2 and made the playoffs, so they know how tough it is to climb out of 0-3.
“I don’t even know if the teams made the playoffs ever at 0-3,” Allen said. “So definitely just wanted to get the win by any means and 1-2 back where we were last year.”