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Week 15 Game Recap: Minnesota Vikings 39, Los Angeles Chargers 10


What you need to know

Minnesota Vikings

Despite the final score, this was one of the sloppiest games of football this weekend. The Vikings defense preyed on a Chargers offense that simply refused to hold on to the football. Philip Rivers threw 3 interceptions and lost a fumble, Melvin Gordon lost 2 fumbles, and Hunter Henry also lost a fumble. The fumble by Rivers was scooped up and returned for a touchdown and this game got out of hand in the second half. Mike Hughes returned an interception for a touchdown and just about everything went right for this defense. The offense got a major boost with Adam Thielen finally returning from a hamstring injury, but he had an overall quiet day. The big blow came with another injury to Dalvin Cook. He injured his shoulder early in the 3rd quarter and was ruled out for the rest of the game. The offense was already without Alexander Mattison this week and had to rely on Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah down the stretch. Boone exceled and punched in 2 touchdowns and the Vikings ended the game with 37 total carries and 9 different players rushing the ball. Minnesota has a week 16 showdown against Green Bay on Monday Night Football as they fight to clinch a playoff spot. They will need to win out and have Green Bay lose out to win the division or they will be forced to play on the road for wild card weekend.

Los Angeles Chargers

Already in the midst of arguably the worst season of his career, Philip Rivers again struggled mightily. He turned it over four more times, alternating excellent timing throws in traffic with some seemingly boneheaded decisions that were easily picked off by the defense. His arm strength has noticeably declined, and rumors have begun circulating that the next two games could be Rivers' last ones with the team.

Melvin Gordon fumbled twice and saw the bench for nearly the remainder of the game (the second fumble came on the first play from scrimmage in the second half). Austin Ekeler, fresh off one of the best games of his career, didn't fare much better. One week after the 1-2 punch worked to perfection, the duo totaled 145 on 24 touches and did not find the end zone.

Mike Williams once again bested Keenan Allen from a fantasy perspective, finding the end zone and tallying 71 yards on the day. Allen himself was very busy, leading the team in receptions, yardage, and targets. But he did it without the benefit of any real big plays, unlike Williams who had two.

Minnesota Vikings

QB Kirk Cousins, 62 offensive snaps, Pass: 19 - 25 - 207 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 14 - 0
With everything going right for the defense this week, Cousins was not asked to do very much. He threw the ball just 25 times and let the rushing attack work the clock. When the defense forces 7 turnovers and scores twice there is not much for the quarterback to do. Cousins did connect on a touchdown to Irv Smith on the first drive of the game. It was a 1-yard score with Smith making a juggling catch as he went to the ground in the back of the end zone. The play was ultimately reviewed to see if he had possession before he rolled out of bounds and the score was upheld by replay. Cousins was not sacked a single time but did throw an interception on what should have been an easy screen play. Defensive end Melvin Ingram read the screen perfectly and was able to jump in front of the play for the interception. Cousins continued his connection with Stefon Diggs and worked to get Thielen back into the fold. Cousins still has not won a game on Monday Night Football in his career and we will hear the same narrative about him not being able to win the big game all week before a showdown against the Packers.

RB Mike Boone, 21 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 56 - 2
Boone was pressed into a starting role in the second half this week. He was active with Alexander Mattison sitting out with an ankle injury. He led all rushers with 13 carries and 56 yards and his longest run going for 10. The Vikings did not fully trust him to carry the load and spread carries out over 9 different players. 3 different wide receivers got a carry, but it was Boone who punched in the touchdowns. In just over a 2minute span, Boone punched in 2 touchdowns. The first was a power run up the middle for 8 yards. It came on the heels of a 7 play 96-yard drive. Then the defense forced a fumble of Hunter Henry on the Chargers first offensive play and Boone punched in a 2-yard power run up the middle again. It was a dream scenario for any running back and put the game completely out of reach for the Chargers. We will have to watch the injury report on both Cook and Mattison this week before projecting what type of role Boone could have on Monday night against the Packers.

RB Dalvin Cook, 28 offensive snaps, Rush: 9 - 27 - 0, Rec: 3 - 16 - 0 (3 targets)
The Vikings had a firm hold of this game before Cook went down, but an injury to their star running back would spell disaster as they make their final play off push. The severity of his shoulder injury is unknown at this time and we will have to wait until later in the week to see if he plays on Monday. Cook had rushed the ball 9 times and averaged just 3 yards per carry before exiting the game. His longest run went for 8 yards and he caught all 3 of his targets with the longest going for 11. It would have been Cook with 2 short yard touchdown carries instead of Boone had he not left with injury. We will have to watch the injury report this week to see if Cook suits up against the Packers on Monday Night Football.

RB Alexander Mattison
Mattison did not play this week after being ruled out with an ankle injury. He missed practice time this week, but the inactive status came as a surprise to many. Then Dalvin Cook left the game with an injury and the Vikings had to piece together a rushing attack for the rest of the game. If Cook is unable to go next week, Mattison should be in line for the majority of the carries if his ankle heals as well. Otherwise it will be another patchwork game with Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah.

WR Stefon Diggs, 46 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 4 - 0, Rec: 4 - 76 - 0 (6 targets)
The Vikings finally got both of their receivers back this week against the Chargers, but it was Diggs who had the most success. He caught 4 of his 6 targets for 76 yards and continues to be the deep threat in this offense. His longest catch went for 46 yards and could have easily been a touchdown with a better throw by Cousins. The Chargers bit on the play action fake by Cousins and let Diggs run free down the middle of the field. Cousins rolled to his right, taking the safety with him, and let loose a deep pass to Diggs. The only issue was he did not hit him in stride and Diggs had to stop his route to make the catch. Had the ball been put further out in front of him he would have walked into the end zone for an easy score. The Vikings have had success with this same play all season long and seem to call it at the perfect time against single high safety defenses. Diggs and Thielen will work through their targeting sharing in the coming weeks before heading to the playoffs.

WR Adam Thielen, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 1 - 3 - 0, Rec: 3 - 27 - 0 (3 targets)
It took longer than most expected, but Thielen finally made his return to the starting lineup. The Vikings did not try, and force feed him the ball and were able to let him rest down the stretch when they had the game firmly in hand. Thielen made the catch on all 3 of his targets with the longest going for 13 yards. He also had a single carry on an end around that went for 3 yards. The rushing attempt seems risky given the prior hamstring issue, but the Vikings feel confident that he is back and healthy. Thielen did not seem to be suffering any ill effects from the injury and was able to cut and show his explosive speed this week. Look for the Vikings to ease him back into things, but he has had a great track record against the Packers over the past 2 seasons and is back at the perfect time for a playoff push.

TE Kyle Rudolph, 35 offensive snaps, Rec: 3 - 48 - 0 (3 targets)
The person with the most targets to lose with the return of Thielen looked to by Rudolph, but he made his mark this week anyway. Rudolph caught all 3 of his targets, including a 22-yard strike down the sideline. This was the second longest play of the game for the Vikings and showed the big tight end has some break away speed when he needs it. He lost the goal line touchdown to Irv Smith and then later Mike Boone rushing touchdowns. The Vikings had a comfortable lead and did not have to force the ball down the field late in the second half. Rudolph has been a big part of this offense in recent weeks and that should continue even with Thielen back in the mix.

TE Irv Smith, 42 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 8 - 1 (3 targets)
It was not the most productive game for Smith this week, but he made the plays that counted. He caught a 1-yard touchdown on the first drive of the game to give the Vikings an early lead. Cousins found Smith open over the middle for a contested catch. The defense sold out to stop the play action fake to Dalvin Cook and Smith made a diving catch in the back of the end zone. The play was reviewed to make sure he had possession of the ball before rolling out of bounds and was upheld as a score. His only other catch went for 7 yards as it was a very quiet game for the passing attack of Minnesota.


Los Angeles Chargers

QB Philip Rivers, 62 offensive snaps, Pass: 28 - 39 - 307 - 1 TD / 3 INT
One week after turning back the clock for one of his best performances of the season, Rivers reverted back to his typical underwhelming status in this one. He turned the ball over a whopping four times, including a back-breaking fumble just before halftime that really seemed to turn the tide in the game in Minnesota's direction. Rivers started the game off well enough, connecting with Mike Williams for gains of 19 and 39 yards. He tossed a floater to Keenan Allen up the sideline, showing excellent timing and rapport with his veteran wideout. And Rivers demonstrated enough arm strength to complete a pass almost flat-footed all the way across the field to Williams to set up a manageable third down. Later in the half, Rivers again connected with Williams on a jump ball in the end zone for the touchdown. It was perfectly placed too high for the defender to reach it and just high enough for Williams to snag it for the score. The receiver got position on his man, and it was mostly just a pitch-and-catch. But as has often been the case for Rivers this season, he made an horrifically ill-advised pass down the seam that was easily intercepted. He was in some traffic in the pocket, and the ball just had nothing on it. But despite that and an earlier Melvin Gordon turnover, the team was still in it late in the first half, driving with the ball and down just 12-10. But Rivers was sacked and had the ball stripped away. Running back Austin Ekeler had a chance to recover it, but allowed it to slip through hish fingers. It was picked up by Minnesota and returned all the way for a touchdown. At halftime, Anthony Lynn made it a focal point to remind his team to protect the football. In the second half, there were a lot of safe, short passes featured by Rivers as the team tried to chip away. But on the rare occasions that they did try to take a shot down the field, Rivers' passes were woefully underthrown and intercepted. Just as the announcers were discussing how good Rivers has been throughout his career, he underthrew another pass intended for Williams down the sideline which was again easily intercepted. In recent weeks, the whispers have gotten louder that Rivers may be in the final weeks of his Chargers career. With the team already eliminated from playoff contention and seemingly looking at a somewhat high draft pick next year, it is very conceivable that the Chargers may look to move on from Rivers in the not-too-distant future.

RB Melvin Gordon, 25 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 28 - 0, Rec: 5 - 36 - 0 (7 targets)
Gordon was having very little success running the ball early on, including a costly fumble that was recovered by Minnesota. It didn't look like a particularly hard hit that jarred the ball loose either. On the ensuing drive, Gordon was given the first carry which was telling in that they went right back to him. He spent the rest of the first half mostly getting stifled by the stout defense of Minnesota. On one short catch in the flat, he had a chance to get into the end zone but the defender made a really nice tackle and dragged him down at the 4-yard line. On the next play he was stopped at the 2-yard line, again with a tough tackle by the defender after it originally appeared that there was some daylight. Just before the end of the first half, Philip Rivers coughed up the ball and it was returned by the Vikings for a touchdown. That play is important in Gordon's game description because head coach Anthony Lynn implored his team to protect the football in the second half. So when Gordon lost a fumble on the very first play of the second half, he found himself very much in the doghouse the rest of the way. When Austin Ekeler came out of the game for a breather, it was Justin Jackson and not Gordon who came on in relief. Midway through the fourth quarter, Gordon did make his way back onto the field. But it was far too little, too late, for any kind of fantasy impact in the game.

RB Austin Ekeler, 30 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 19 - 0, Rec: 5 - 62 - 0 (7 targets)
A week after one of the biggest games of his (or any running back's) career, Ekeler came back to Earth a bit. Minnesota seemed to be employing a strategy of keying on the Los Angeles run game and forcing Philip Rivers to beat them deep. Rivers was unable to do so, and so the run game never really got going. On the bright side for Ekeler, Melvin Gordon lost two fumbles early on which led to a greater share of the rushing workload. On the downside for Ekeler, the Chargers trailed significantly throughout the second half so there wasn't much rushing workload to be had. And on the occasion that there was, there wasn't much room to run. He was again effective in the passing game, with his big gain going for 27 yards. He shook loose wide open down the sideline out of the backfield for the long pass play. Later in the first half, he took a short catch in the flat and was absolutely drilled by a defender. The ball popped loose and sat on the ground for several moments with three Minnesota defenders around it, but Keenan Allen alertly dove and knocked it out of bounds before anyone could recover from the defense. After Melvin Gordon's second fumble of the game early in the second half, Ekeler got the next carry and shared the workload with Justin Jackson as Gordon remained on the bench for nearly the entirety of the second half.

RB Justin Jackson, 13 offensive snaps, Rush: 5 - 15 - 0, Rec: 2 - 2 - 0 (2 targets)
An early-season sleeper, Jackson has gotten very little playing time due to injury as well as the return of Melvin Gordon. He did get an early-game reception in this one while working into the running back rotation, but the majority of his workload came after Gordon lost his second fumble of the game on the first play of the second half. Jackson looked good on a couple of runs, showing nice wiggle and darting to the outside after shaking a defender loose. Of course, he was also stuffed on a third and 1 carry that ended up losing a yard. Aside from that, the Charger offense mostly revolved around the passing game since they trailed by so much throughout the second half.

WR Keenan Allen, 58 offensive snaps, Rec: 9 - 99 - 0 (10 targets)
After taking something of a back seat to the likes of Austin Ekeler, Mike Williams, and Hunter Henry in recent weeks, Allen was extremely busy in this one. He led all players in both targets and receptions, and was involved in all facets of the Los Angeles passing game. On several occasions, he and Rivers looked to be very much in sync, with several passes being thrown before Allen had even started his break and the ball being right where the receiver was. This may be the last few games the two will play together as there have been rumors of Rivers potentially being let go after the season, but it was clear in this game that some of that rapport is still there. Allen attacked the defense both along the sidelines and over the middle of the field with his patented comeback and crossing routes. On Allen's best chance to score, Rivers fired a pass his way in the end zone on a slant. Allen appeared to be open on the play, but he slipped coming out of his break and the ball sailed past him for an incompletion. Despite a relatively lackluster finish to the season (for him), Allen still went over 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight year and fourth time overall.

WR Mike Williams, 52 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 71 - 1 (9 targets)
Williams did most of his damage in the first half, making a nice grab on a floater down the seam where he glided in front of defenders to snatch the pass that they thought they had lined up for an interception. Soon after, Williams hauled in a deep bomb down the left side for 39 yards, making a nice adjustment to snag it in front of the defender. For the second straight game, Williams also managed to bring in a score. From the 2-yard line, Rivers stepped back and tossed up a 50-50 jump ball. Williams had a significant height advantage over his defender, and went up to get it at its highest point for the touchdown. There were no real plays of positive significance involving Williams in the second half, despite the Chargers trailing throughout.

TE Hunter Henry, 43 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 29 - 0 (2 targets)
After a solid return to form from an early-season knee injury, Henry has somewhat disappeared of late. In this game, his name wasn't even called until the second half. He finally got on the board with a 24-yard catch to convert a fourth down down to the 11-yard line. He had just one other catch in the game, a short pass on a crossing route. As he started to make a move, the ball was stripped away and ruled a fumble. Replays looked like it was close to being just an incomplete pass, but eventually ruled that he had made a football move and confirmed the fumble.