MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The Minnesota Vikings’ locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium was near dead silence after Sunday’s 28-24 loss to the L.A. Chargers.
Many players sat in their chairs, some with towels over their heads and staring at their cell phones. They were frustrated, and didn’t have answers for what went wrong in their third straight loss to start the season. Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell on Monday had a tone that suggests he, the players and everyone in the organization knows the season is at a crossroads heading to Carolina. Only six teams in NFL history have started 0-3 and made the playoffs, the latest being the 2018 Houston Texans.
O’Connell said he’s asked everyone in the building to take a look at themselves, have accountability and ask what they can do better to work towards their first win. In one of the weirdest stats you’ll see, Kirk Cousins is leading the NFL in passing, Justin Jefferson leads the NFL in receiving yards and Danielle Hunter is tied for the NFL lead with five sacks. The Vikings feel they’re a better team than their 0-3 mark shows.
"Our team is experiencing a significant test right now, trying to have the mental toughness to overcome some very difficult results over the last few weeks. It was right there for us, we just need to find ways to get it done in the end," O’Connell said. "I think we’ve got the right people in this building, we’ve got the right guys in that locker room. I’m very confident that we will push forward through this test. The best version of this team is out there, it’s still out in front of us and my job is to try to get us to that point."
WHY DIDN’T KIRK COUSINS CLOCK THE BALL?
Gifted the ball after a turnover on downs at the Chargers’ 24-yard line with 1:46 to play, the Vikings got the ball down to the 6-yard line after Cousins converted a fourth down play to T.J. Hockenson. From there, it was chaos and confusion. Cousins was having problems hearing O’Connell’s play call in his head set, between technical issues and fan noise. What he needed to do was have a sense of urgency, get the offense set and spike the ball. The Vikings would’ve had three plays to win the game.
Instead, 29 seconds ran off as Cousins called the next play. It was a throw to Hockenson that was bobbled and intercepted for a back-breaking loss. Cousins tried to explain why he did what he did after the loss.
"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 of it, certainly. I was just trying to get up and call a play."
The second half of that statement is concerning. Cousins is in his sixth season at Minnesota, is a unanimous team captain and 12th year overall. Amidst the chaos, clock the ball and give the offense three more chances.
O’Connell gave clarification to the sequence on Monday. He was trying to rush a play in and catch the Chargers off guard.
"The problem with that scenario was really he got bits and pieces of the call. If we were able to use our normal frequency and timing to get up and snap that ball off, we would have four chances to score. In hindsight, that’s purely on me," O’Connell said. "I should’ve just clocked the ball and understand we’ll take our three downs from there to score."
AKAYLEB EVANS MISSES GAME-TURNING PLAY
The Vikings had just scored on a 52-yard pass to Justin Jefferson to take a 24-21 lead. The Chargers answered in the oddest of ways. Justin Herbert converted a back-breaking 3rd-and-17 to Keenan Allen, then hit Joshua Palmer for a 30-yard touchdown. Akayleb Evans was there for an easy interception, but it slipped through and landed in Palmer’s hands for a score. Should he have made the turnover?
"I think it was a tough play for sure. Akayleb would be the first one to say he could’ve made that play. Ultimately not only do we not catch it, but they do on the tip, is pretty unique and quite a swing when you think about what might have been in that situation," O’Connell said.
It was just one play in a rough day for the Vikings’ secondary, as Herbert was 40-of-47 for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Compounding matters, Andrew Booth Jr., Lewis Cine and Brian Asamoah didn’t play a single defensive snap Sunday.
The Vikings face Carolina Sunday in a battle of 0-3 teams, with the loser’s playoff hopes all but over.