Sunday’s grand opening of the new U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis was carried on Fox, so I was able to watch the game between the Chargers and the Vikings from the comfort of my rec room, rather than just following my Twitter feed for live updates. As with all preseason games, there were good and bad aspects, but the third preseason game tends to be the one that teams take quite seriously and usually play their starters for most of the first half. The first round of roster cuts come up very soon — teams have to get down to only 75 players on Tuesday — so this is professional do-or-die time for a lot of players at the bottom of the roster sheets.
For the Vikings, a few starters were held out for the game, including current NFL rushing champ Adrian Peterson (who hasn’t had a meaningful preseason snap in several years), left tackle Matt Kalil, defensive end Everson Griffen, middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes. In a bit of a surprise, the starting centre was Joe Berger instead of the veteran John Sullivan (Berger is also a veteran player, but played all of last season at centre after Sullivan was injured).
The first drive of the game was quite encouraging for Vikings fans as the team drove efficiently down the field before the drive stalled in the red zone and they had to settle for a Blair Walsh field goal. Teddy Bridgewater showed that he has some athletic moves on a 22-yard scramble and Jerick McKinnon got a 35-yard gain on the same drive.
The second Vikings drive came quite soon as Harrison Smith intercepted a Philip Rivers pass off a deflection by Trae Waynes, but the team still couldn’t capitalize and came away with only a second field goal.
On San Diego’s next possession, the Vikings dialed up a big blitz but missed running back Melvin Gordon who ran 39 yards for the Chargers’ first score. Backup middle linebacker Audie Cole hit Rivers just as Gordon got the ball and safety Michael Griffin whiffed on Gordon in the open field. After the game, head coach Mike Zimmer said the blame was on him for a bad defensive call.
The Vikings’ next drive ended prematurely as tight end Kyle Rudolph had the ball stripped after a nice throw from Bridgewater and the Chargers were able to recover. San Diego briefly increased the lead on a field goal with about 2:28 left to play in the first half, and then Teddy Bridgewater put on a passing clinic with consecutive passes of 19, 22, and 27 yards and a touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. The two-point attempt after that failed, so the Vikings took a 12-10 lead into the halftime break. Bridgewater finished the half with a stat line of 12-of-16 for 161 yards and a passer rating of 127.3 (down from his 158.3 rating from the first preseason game).
The next points scored were a bit of a mess as tight end MyCole Pruitt took a Shaun Hill pass close to the goal line and then fumbled the ball. The ball was advanced into the end zone by a Chargers player and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson recovered the fumble for a Vikings touchdown. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. First round pick wide receiver Laquon Treadwell caught a pass from Hill for the two-point conversion, moving the score to 20-10. Later in the fourth quarter, Blair Walsh scored another field goal to make the final score 23-10.
In defensive action, former Clemson teammates Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse each secured an interception:
For the second time this preseason, college teammates Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse each grabbed interceptions. Kearse was in the right spot at the right time to take in an overthrown Mike Bercovici pass. Alexander, after dropping an INT opportunity two plays prior, made an impressive interception in the end zone on a pass from Bercovici to Rasheed Bailey. Alexander and Kearse both played for Clemson and both were selected in last May’s draft – Alexander a second-round pick and Kearse a seventh-rounder. Another young defensive back impressed, as well, with Waynes registering a pass breakup and also finishing in good position on other passes thrown his way.
Of course, after doing something really good on the field, Mac Alexander then went over to taunt the San Diego bench, drawing a well-deserved unsportsmanlike conduct penalty:
A dictionary example of a “rookie mistake”.
The Vikings will host the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday in their fourth and final preseason game, after which all teams have to cut down to their 53-man rosters (practice squad players can be signed 24 hours after the “final” rosters are announced). Even more than the second half of the third preseason game, expect pretty much the entire fourth game to be filled with players desperate to attract the attention of coaches in hopes of latching on with a team (their own or some other team … getting into the NFL on a roster is what matters). Translated, this means don’t expect to see any star players take the field for more than token efforts this coming week: no rational coach is willing to risk star players getting injured in utterly meaningless snaps this late in the preseason (and should be strongly criticized if they do).
Update: Tom Pelissero is reporting that the Vikings are looking to trade John Sullivan, and it now makes sense that he didn’t get into the Chargers game.