Vikings lose to L.A. Chargers 28-24, drop to 0-3 on season

Donald Parham Jr. #89 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs past Mekhi Blackmon #5 of the Minnesota Vikings while scoring a touchdown during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 24, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  ((Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images))

The Minnesota Vikings are 0-3 after a 28-24 loss to the L.A. Chargers on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, and less than a quarter of the way in, the 2023 season is at a crossroads.

The Vikings now have a steep hill to climb if they want to give themselves a chance at returning to the NFC Playoffs. Only six teams in NFL history have started 0-3 and gone onto make the playoffs. Since 2002, 99 teams have started with three straight losses and only one, the 2018 Houston Texans, made the postseason.

Kevin O’Connell and company have nobody to blame but themselves after Sunday’s loss. They had not one, but two chances for the go-ahead touchdown in the last eight minutes. They were 11-0 in one-score games last year, and have now lost three by a combined 13 points to start this season.

"Tough ending to a football game that quite frankly we felt like was in our grasp and didn’t execute at the end the way we needed to on either of our final two possessions to get one of those two footballs in the end zone," O'Connell said.

Trailing 28-24 late in the fourth quarter with the ball at the Chargers’ 2-yard line, the Vikings failed to get the go-ahead touchdown. Alexander Mattison was stopped twice, and two Kirk Cousins' passes to Justin Jefferson fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.

Chargers’ coach Brandon Staley then did the Vikings a favor, going for it on 4th-and-1 at their own 24-yard line and getting stopped. 

The Vikings got the ball down to the 6-yard line, but Cousins’ pass to T.J. Hockenson at the goal line in the closing seconds was broken up and intercepted in the end zone to seal the game. The Vikings let 29 seconds run off the clock before the turnover, instead of spiking the ball, and looked rushed in the process. Both Kirk Cousins and O'Connell said after the game there were communication issues between crowd noise and difficulty hearing in the headsets.

"Just couldn’t hear him in the noise and just ended up calling a play, and it was the same play he was trying to get to. I can do anything I want, I can quarterback sneak it but at the same time, you have to also deal with the consequences," Cousins said. "Until you know the future, it’s hard to know whether to take the reins or not. But I've done it before. I try not to make a habit ot if, certainly. I was just trying to get up and call a play."

"There was a little bit of confusion with the crowd and the situation, with the headsets there was a little bit of confusion early on. By the time he was able to cleanly hear me and get everybody aligned, too much time had come off the clock," O'Connell said. "Looking back on it, just should’ve clocked it and taken three snaps from there to try to punch the ball in the end zone."

The Vikings have a lot to fix on the offensive line and in the secondary after Sunday’s loss. Cousins was 32-of-50 for 367 yards and three touchdowns, despite being sacked four times and facing pressure much of the day. Alexander Mattison had 20 carries for a season-high 93 yards. The Vikings ran for 130 yards and averaged 5.4 yards per carry after coming into the game with the worst rushing offense in the NFL.

Jefferson had seven catches for 149 yards and his first touchdown of the season, after not getting a single target in the first quarter. His touchdown came on a 52-yard play that gave the Vikings their only lead of the day, 24-21, with 11:20 to play.

"I’m a competitor, I hate losing at the end of the day. Ever since I was a little kid, I just hate the feeling of losing whether it’s a football game or a board game. There’s always that competitive spirit in me, I just hate losing," Jefferson said. "To come up short like that three times in a row is definitely tough."

K.J. Osborn had one catch for a 36-yard touchdown, on a 4th-and-6, that got the Vikings within 21-17 late in the third quarter. Josh Oliver had two catches for four yards and his first touchdown with the Vikings.

The Vikings’ secondary had no answers for Justin Herbert. He was 40-of-47 for 405 yards and three touchdowns, two on short throws to Donald Parham Jr. Keenan Allen had 18 catches for 215 yards, and had a 49-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams that gave the Chargers a 21-10 lead in the third quarter. Williams had seven catches for 121 yards and a score. 

Herbert hit Joshua Palmer for a 40-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 28-24 lead with 8:05 to play. Akayleb Evans was there for the interception and had his hands on it, but it deflected into the hands of Palmer for a back-breaking score.

The Vikings head to Carolina to face former teammate Adam Thielen and the Panthers next Sunday. O'Connell tried to point to a silver inning after Sundays loss: He was the offensive coordinator for the L.A. Rams in 2021 when they went through a three-game losing streak. They went onto win the Super Bowl.

"It wasn’t the start of the season, but we lost three in a row and found a way to win a world championship. I believe in this team, I believe in the makeup of this team, I believe in our leadership and we are going to continue to work. We can be disappointed and upset with the outcome today, but our backs are against the wall now," O'Connell said. "We’ve got to find a way to get our first win this week, and go on the road to do it."