By Rob Maddi/AP Pro Football Writer
The Vikings and Chargers traded inexplicable decisions in the final two minutes.
After Los Angeles coach Brandon Staley set Minnesota up for a win, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell and quarterback Kirk Cousins gave him a reprieve with their inability to manage the clock.
Minnesota had a first and goal at the Chargers 6 following a 9-yard pass from Cousins to T.J. Hockenson on fourth down on a play that began with 42 seconds remaining. With no timeouts left, the call should’ve been easy. Spike the ball, huddle up and get three shots at the end zone with about 30 seconds to go.
Instead, the Vikings rushed to get off another play and wasted nearly 20 seconds. Cousins had trouble hearing O’Connell because of the crowd noise and ended up throwing an interception on a deflected pass that sealed a 28-24 loss on Sunday.
“Looking back on it, I just should’ve clocked it and taken the three snaps from there to try to punch the ball in the end zone,” O’Connell said.
The Vikings (0-3) wouldn’t have even been in position to screw it up if Staley didn’t go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 24 up four points. Joshua Kelley was stuffed and Minnesota got the ball with 1:47 left in excellent field position.
“We came here to win. It was a tough road game against a team that made the playoffs, so we were trying to go win the game,” Staley said, defending his bold move. “I make no apologies for that.”
Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson, a two-time Super Bowl champion, said on Fox’s postgame show that Staley’s decision was “such a dumb call.”
Staley’s aggressive approach on fourth down – there are “Fourth and Staley” T- shirts available online – has been a hot topic since he became a head coach in 2021. It’s backfired a few times, including the final game of his rookie season.
In that game, Staley was 6 for 7 on fourth down. But the one miss was critical. He went for fourth-and-1 at his own 18 down 17-14 in the third quarter. Austin Ekeler lost 2 yards on a run, the Raiders ended up getting a field goal and went on to win the game 35-32 in overtime to eliminate the Chargers, who needed a win or tie to make the playoffs.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert defended the call against the Vikings.
“Got to get a yard,” he said. “That’s on us as an offense to get that yard. It’s one of those plays that we practice all the time, and it’s unfortunate that it didn’t go our way.”
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