Chargers drop ball down the stretch on offense and defense in loss to Vikings

Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil (59) hits Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) as he throws.
Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil (59) hits Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) as he throws.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

One week after flexing their muscles on the road as closers, the Chargers came home and had their own front door slammed in their faces.

They were powerless to stop Minnesota’s offense in the final minutes Sunday at SoFi Stadium as the visitors bled the clock to zeroes for a 27-20 win.

“You always want to get the offense an extra chance, especially with a quarterback like [Justin] Herbert,” defensive lineman Linval Joseph said. “So, yeah, it was frustrating.”


The Chargers fell to 5-4 as they lost for the third time in four games. Three of their losses have come at home.

A season that opened with so much promise — four victories in five weeks — has turned decidedly average as Herbert and the offense have struggled to rediscover the production that carried the team earlier.

“It seems every week we’re fighting to kind of find that rhythm and timing,” coach Brandon Staley said. “It’s not there yet. We’re not there yet. Our record is reflective of that.”

The Rams produced many headlines with their recent acquisitions. Meanwhile, L.A.’s other team, the Chargers, could not produce a home win and fell out of first in the AFC West.

When Dustin Hopkins kicked a 24-yard field goal with 4:36 left, the Chargers moved to within one score. They still had two timeouts and the two-minute warning.

That’s a lot of room and plenty of opportunity — if the defense could tighten and force the Vikings to surrender the ball.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, Minnesota had found its rhythm and timing on its two previous possessions, both of which resulted in touchdowns.

This time, the Vikings ran 10 plays that netted 36 yards, overcame two significant penalties and converted one third down and one fourth down to leave Herbert idled on the sideline.

Last weekend, the Chargers consumed all but two seconds of the final six minutes to win in Philadelphia 27-24 on a late kick by Hopkins.

Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins took a knee on the final three snaps Sunday as the Chargers lost a one-sided time-of-possession game.

The Vikings’ edge was more than 12 minutes. Baltimore had a 16-minute advantage and New England a 10-minute edge in the Chargers’ two previous defeats.

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) is chased by Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97).
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) is chased by Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97). Cook finished with 94 yards rushing.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“I look at it as conditioning,” Joseph said of the extra snaps the defense has been forced to work. “But that’s not how you want to play this game.”

On the final drive, Minnesota survived despite facing a second and 17 and a third and 20.

An 11-yard run by Dalvin Cook and a 27-yard pass completion to Justin Jefferson converted the first situation. An 18-yard catch by Adam Thielen and a four-yard run by Cook erased the second.

Both long passes came against backup cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, who was playing in place of injured Michael Davis.

“We have a lot of young players out there,” Staley said. “But that’s no excuse. We got to execute better to get our offense more turns.”

Staley explained that the Chargers were playing man-to-man on the outside with two deep safeties, a scheme they employed precisely to try to take away Jefferson and Thielen.

Justin Herbert and the Chargers lost to the Minnesota Vikings at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. Here are photos chronicling many of the game’s biggest moments.

Still, both receivers burned the Chargers when it mattered most.

“We didn’t execute well enough in a defense that’s designed to take away exactly what happened,” Staley said. “So we have to coach and play much better.”

Jefferson finished with nine receptions for 143 yards. Cousins was 25 of 37 for 294 yards and two touchdown passes.

Herbert completed 20 of 34 attempts for 195 yards, with one touchdown pass and one interception. He has had only one game in his career with fewer completions and one with fewer yards.

The Chargers didn’t reach 200 total yards of offense until the middle of the fourth quarter.

“We had these really good stretches and then it felt like we were fighting to find it in other stretches,” Staley said. “We got to keep playing with more pace and more tempo, more rhythm and timing.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 27-20 loss to the Vikings at SoFi Stadium on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

On the Chargers’ final possession — the one that ended with Hopkins’ 24-yard field goal — Austin Ekeler had a drop on what could have been a big gain. Mike Williams later dropped what would have been a touchdown pass.

“There were drops today that I didn’t like,” Staley said. “There were some untimely protection issues that I didn’t like. There were some times where a play that’s designed to go for a bunch and should go for a bunch didn’t.”

Staley lamented his team’s general lack of execution and inability to sustain any sort of offensive consistency. The Chargers did lead at one point — 17-13 for a stretch of the third quarter — but the Vikings proved too much.

That was especially true at the end, the Chargers going from closing out to being left out, unwelcome in their own home.