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The Sports Report: Chargers’ struggles continue in loss to Vikings

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook carries the ball for a short gain in a 27-20 victory over the Chargers.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook carries the ball for a short gain in a 27-20 victory over the Chargers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Howdy, I’m your host, Austin Knoblauch, filling in for Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: 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.

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“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.”

Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White touches a lightning orb on his way to the field before Sunday's loss.
Chargers outside linebacker Kyzir White touches a lightning orb on his way to the field before Sunday’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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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.

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More on the game from columnist Helene Elliott: Chargers lose ground in AFC West, still trying to find consistency and spark at home

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LAKERS

Lakers forward Anthony Davis, right, goes up against San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White during Sunday's game.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

Broderick Turner on the Lakers: The Lakers are starting to become whole again, day by day and game by game.

LeBron James is not back yet, but the Lakers forward is making progress with his abdominal strain that kept him out of his sixth straight game on Sunday afternoon.

Talen Horton-Tucker was back for the Lakers, his first game of the season after having right thumb surgery. Horton-Tucker was in the starting lineup along with super-sub Carmelo Anthony as Lakers coach Frank Vogel decided to make changes to his first unit.

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One of the constants with the starters has been Anthony Davis, and the All-Star forward was driven to play at a high level and be the unquestioned leader during his team’s 114-106 win over the San Antonio Spurs before 18,997 at Staples Center.

He was a force from the start, scoring 19 points in the first quarter, and was dominant throughout, finishing with 34 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, including two in the decisive fourth quarter. He had two steals, blocked a shot and committed one turnover.

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: It was a bad sign when, early in Sunday’s second quarter, the Clippers had committed more turnovers than made baskets, failed to make a shot outside of the paint and, in the process, proved yet again that they are the NBA’s best at falling behind by double-digit deficits.

It was an equally bad sign for Chicago throughout the second half that despite all that had gone wrong for their opponent, the Clippers were nonetheless doing the other thing they are best at — hanging around, chipping away and refusing to wave the white flag.

So when Paul George drove through his defender’s shoulders with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, cocked his body backward and made a ridiculously difficult jump shot for the Clippers’ first lead in 34 minutes, what erupted inside Staples Center wasn’t the sound of thrilled surprise. It was the kind of noise akin to a concert crowd reveling at hearing the familiar first chords of the headliner’s signature hit.

They were doing it again, following the formula that had delivered a seven-game winning streak despite once trailing by at least 13 in four of them.

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Even when the Clippers trailed again by eight with eight minutes to play, then nine with 4 minutes 45 seconds left after Lonzo Ball turned an intercepted George pass into a layup on the other end, and Terance Mann limped off, the result felt anything but final. Not until George missed a seventh three-point attempt with just more than a minute to play, and Bulls guard Zach LaVine answered with a step-back two on the other end, did this rally finally run dry in a 100-90 loss, the Clippers’ first since Oct. 29.

RAMS

San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Steve Young runs over San Diego's Darrien Gordon in Super Bowl XXIX.
(Andrew Innerarity / Associated Press)

Sam Farmer on the Rams and 49ers: There’s no mistaking the message from the Rams. Clearly, they believe the Lombardi Trophy is within reach.

That was the resounding message the last two weeks when they bolstered their roster with two superstars — pass rusher Von Miller and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. — with the idea those players, such as quarterback Matthew Stafford, will help distance them from the field. The addition of Beckham, nicknamed OBJ, was especially timely with the Rams losing receiver Robert Woods on Friday to a season-ending knee injury.

But there’s a big difference between collecting all-stars and getting the most out of them, something the Philadelphia Eagles learned in 2011 when they assembled the so-called Dream Team yet finished 8-8.

The 1994 San Francisco 49ers were different. A year after the start of NFL free agency, they used salary-cap creativity and a buy-now-pay-later strategy to assemble a constellation of stars, mostly on defense, that included Ken Norton Jr., Richard Dent, Charles Mann, Gary Plummer and the most coveted prize, future Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who would earn defensive player of the year honors. The 49ers parlayed that plan into a fifth Super Bowl victory.

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“We had come to the realization that this was a team destined to win now, but we were missing a couple pieces,” recalled Carmen Policy, former 49ers president. “So we had to deal with a proposition: Do we push all our chips into the middle of the table and do whatever we have to do and get those extra pieces to overcome this burgeoning dynasty called Dallas? The decision was yes.”

Rams coach Sean McVay, whose 7-2 team plays the 49ers on Monday night, paid close attention to that San Francisco team even though he was only in elementary school at the time. He turned 9 a week before those 49ers routed the San Diego Chargers in the Super Bowl 49-26.

MORE: Rams vs. 49ers game preview

UCLA BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on UCLA men’s basketball: With 80 seconds left and his team needing two more defensive stands to complete its comeback against Villanova, UCLA coach Mick Cronin knew where to turn.

His super stopper.

Jaylen Clark rose from the bench, the sophomore guard receiving instructions and a get-in-there pat on the back from his coach as he walked toward the scorer’s table to check into the game Friday night at Pauley Pavilion.

Clark sprinted along the baseline to defend the inbounds pass with the Bruins trailing by two points late in regulation, disrupting the Wildcats any way he could. After Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels missed a jumper with 58 seconds left, Clark tapped the rebound to teammate Tyger Campbell to start the possession that ended in Jules Bernard’s hanging floater in the lane that tied the score.

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One stop down. One to go.

When Villanova’s Justin Moore drove toward the basket in the final seconds, Clark was there, his body staying in front of his man, his left arm extended into the air to contest the shot.

Moore’s attempt bounced harmlessly off the backboard and Clark grabbed the rebound to send the game into overtime, where the second-ranked Bruins prevailed for an 86-77 victory over the fourth-ranked Wildcats made possible by Clark’s largely unsung heroics.

USC FOOTBALL

Baylor coach Dave Aranda celebrates a defensive stop during a game against TCU on Nov. 6.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

J. Brady McCollough on the USC coaching search: Surely the juxtaposition of the day’s most impressive win and most shocking defeat was not lost on USC’s Heritage Hall brain trust.

No. 13 Baylor beat No. 8 Oklahoma 27-14.

Texas lost to Kansas 57-56.

Forget for the purpose of this exercise that the Longhorns are led by former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian, because emotions should not be involved and it’s always emotional with Sark.

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Last offseason, Texas spent $24 million to fire Tom Herman, who was the hottest coaching name on the market in 2016. It did this confidently because the school already knew who it wanted next — the hottest coach on the market in 2020.

Texas would agree to pay this new coach $5.2 million per year after he guided the Alabama offense to the next level within the buttress of a dynasty that hummed along right through a global pandemic to another national championship.

So far, Texas has spent more than $30 million to start 4-6, lose five games in a row and collapse in humiliating fashion at home to Kansas, which had not won a Big 12 road game since 2008. That’s 13 years! (A brief aside: I would know, I covered that Jayhawks team for the Kansas City Star).

ANGELS

Angels star Shohei Ohtani attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club on Monday.
(Eugene Hoshiko / Associated Press)

From the Associated Press: Even Shohei Ohtani, arguably the best player in the major leagues, feels down at times, particularly when his team isn’t winning.

And that’s been the case during each of the four seasons he has been with the Angels, all of which have ended with losing records.

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Sharing his mental state was among the few small nuggets Ohtani revealed in an hour-long interview Monday at the Japan National Press Club.

The Q-and-A session focused heavily on local matters about being back home, about local food and local baseball personalities, and even questions about when the 27-year-old might start a family.

“I think this is something you cannot force to happen, it just naturally happens,” he said, speaking in Japanese through an interpreter. “I think it’s still well ahead of me.”

Ohtani is under contract for next season at $5.5 million, which will be his highest annual salary thus far. He remains under the Angels’ control through 2023 and could become a free agent after that season.

DUCKS

Ducks forward Sonny Milano, right, celebrates with Trevor Zegras after scoring in a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks.
Ducks forward Sonny Milano, right, celebrates with Trevor Zegras after scoring in a 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

From the Associated Press: Trevor Zegras had two goals and an assist, Troy Terry extended his scoring streak to 14 games and the Ducks rolled to their seventh consecutive victory, 5-1 over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.

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Sonny Milano also scored and John Gibson made 26 saves for the Ducks, who remained in second place in the Pacific Division while staying perfect since Oct. 29.

Adam Henrique and Sam Steel added goals in the final minute for Anaheim, which has earned a point in nine straight games and scored at least three goals in a franchise-record 11 consecutive games.

“It’s nice to string some games along,” Zegras said. “We’ve got a lot of guys playing with a lot of confidence. We’ve got (Terry) on a 14-game point streak. Obviously we’ve got (Gibson) in net making big saves at the right time. Definitely helps. It’s fun to play right now.”

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1879 — Princeton beats Harvard 1-0 in a college football game held in New Jersey. The Tigers unveil the concept of using blockers to help advance the ball.

1890 — Minnesota and Wisconsin square off for the first time in what has become the most-played series in college football history. The Gophers beat the Badgers 63-0 in Minneapolis.

1901 — Jim Jeffries knocks out Gus Ruhlin in the sixth round to retain the world heavyweight title in San Francisco.

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1913 — Australia’s Ernie Parker beats New Zealand’s Harry Parker 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 to win the Australasian Championships.

1952 — An NBA-record 13 players, five Baltimore Bullets and eight Syracuse Nationals, foul out in an overtime game. The Bullets win 97-91. So many Syracuse players fouled out that the officials let some of the players back into the game so the Nationals could keep five men on the court. Whenever those players fouled, Baltimore was given a technical foul shot in addition to the free throws.

1960 — Elgin Baylor of the Los Angeles Lakers scores 71 points, an NBA record at the time, in a 123-108 victory over the New York Knicks.

1964 — Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson fumbles seven times in a 28-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

1969 — The New York Knicks run their record to 17-1, the best start in NBA history, by beating the Boston Celtics 113-98.

1969 — Bill Cappleman of Florida State passes for 508 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-26 loss to Memphis State.

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1975 — Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh rushes for 303 yards and scores a touchdown in a 34-20 victory over Notre Dame.

1980 — Dale Earnhardt wins his first NASCAR Winston Cup championship. Earnhardt finishes fifth in the Los Angeles Times 500, the final race of the season, to win the title by 19 points over Cale Yarborough.

2002 — Tampa Bay forward Dave Andreychuk sets an NHL record by scoring his 250th career power-play goal in the first period of the Lightning’s game against San Jose.

2003 — Brian Vickers becomes NASCAR’s youngest champion ever, claiming the Busch Series title with an 11th place finish behind first-time winner Kasey Kahne at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2011 — Mike Krzyzewski becomes Division I’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach when No. 6 Duke beats Michigan State 74-69 in the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Blue Devils give Coach K his 903rd win, breaking the tie with Bob Knight, Krzyzewski’s college coach at Army and his mentor throughout his professional career.

2014 — Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushes for 408 yards to break the single-game major college football rushing record before sitting out the final quarter in a 59-24 rout over Nebraska.

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2015 — Matthew Stafford throws for two touchdowns, and the Detroit Lions ends a 24-game road losing streak against the Green Bay Packes with an 18-16 victory. It’s Detroit’s first win at Green Bay since a 21-17 victory on Dec. 15, 1991.

And finally

There were plenty of touchdowns in Sunday’s NFL games. Watch them all here:

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.

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