LOS ANGELES (AP) — If anyone can relate to the frustration the Minnesota Vikings are feeling with their recent spate of close losses, it is the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Vikings come into Sunday’s game with a 3-5 mark. Their five losses have been by a total of 18 points, including two in overtime.
The Chargers had a similar start last season. Their first five losses were by a combined 19 points and also had two ending in overtime.
“It seems like they’ve been in very similar games, especially with their last game at Baltimore,” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said. “We know they’re a good team. We know their record is 3-5, but it would easily be what we are right now.”
Los Angeles is 5-3 and tied atop the AFC West after a 27-24 win at Philadelphia, but Ekeler said it could be the opposite after the Chargers got favorable fourth-down penalties to keep drives alive in wins over Kansas City and Cleveland.
Minnesota has not been as fortunate. It has dropped two straight, including a 34-31 overtime loss to the Ravens.
Coach Mike Zimmer, whose seat is getting warmer, has been frustrated by the close finishes, but is not doubting his team’s resolve. He is also hoping his situation doesn’t turn out like the Chargers did last year where the close losses meant the end of Anthony Lynn’s four-year tenure despite four straight wins to close the season.
“This team fights, OK? They compete like crazy,” Zimmer said. “We’ve got to figure out how not to let it come down to the last play of the game, number one, and when we do, we’ve got to figure out a way to get it done.”
Minnesota has also had to deal with five players on the COVID-19 list, including two starters. Safety Harrison Smith will miss Sunday’s game, but center Garrett Bradbury could return.
As if the COVID-19 cases were not enough, Dalvin Cook is facing a lawsuit from a former girlfriend, who alleges the running back assaulted her during an altercation at his home last year. Cook’s attorney said his client was assaulted by the woman and had the right to defend himself.
“We’ve had a little bit of the injuries and COVID and things like that, and we’ve just got to overcome it. But as long as we keep fighting, good things will happen,” Zimmer said.
ON THE RUN
The game features an interesting quarterback matchup between Kirk Cousins and Justin Herbert, but the key might be the running games. The Chargers have the worst run defense in the league, allowing 161.6 yards per game. The Vikings are 30th at 136.6.
Cook is eighth in the league in rushing and has surpassed 100 yards in two of his past three games. Ekeler is 10th in the league in scrimmage yards and has five 100-yard games this season.
BACK ON TRACK?
Herbert was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after he completed a career-high 84.2% of his passes against the Eagles. The second-year quarterback bounced back after two straight games with a passer rating under 70 as the Chargers’ offense had its best performance of the season.
But can Herbert replicate that against a Vikings defense that likes to apply plenty of pressure and also does a good job of disguising coverages? Herbert struggled against Baltimore and New England’s defenses and goes up against another veteran defense this week.
“Well, it’s the NFL. They’re all tough games. It’s all about how you answer adversity,” Herbert said.
Two years ago in Los Angeles, purple-clad Vikings fans packed the Major League Soccer stadium where the Chargers played for three years before moving into SoFi Stadium.
“That probably is an all-timer in terms of just having a sea of Vikings fans at an away game,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
They’re hopeful of more of the same this Sunday, even though the percentage of Vikings fans in the crowd is likely to be much smaller at the much larger venue. Cousins said he’s had several moments during road games this season when he wasn’t immediately sure if the outcome of a particular play went his team’s way or not because of how loudly the Vikings fans cheered.
“It says a lot about our fans and the way they travel. My wife’s gone to a few away games, and she’ll comment how it’s unbelievable how we do the ‘Skol’ chant and she feels like she’s surrounded by friends instead of being in an opposing environment,” Cousins said.
THIRD DOWN IS NOT A CHARM
The Vikings are 25th in the NFL with a 35.7% conversion rate on third downs, the most glaring problem of late for an offense that has far too much talent to be punting that many times. Even more confounding is the Vikings have allowed only 10 sacks, the fewest in the league, and Cousins has thrown the fewest interceptions (two) of any starting quarterback in the NFL this year.
“It’s one of those things where everybody’s trying to wrap their head around why,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said, adding: “I know the fans are done with it, us coming in here every single week and saying, ‘We have the guys. We’ve just got to go out and execute.’ So I don’t really know what to say.”
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