Last-minute interception seals Chargers' 28-24 win over Vikings

Alohi Gilman of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates with teammates after recovering a fumble during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 24, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Im

Justin Herbert passed for 405 yards and three touchdowns for Los Angeles and the Chargers kept Kirk Cousins and Minnesota out of the end zone twice in the last three minutes to preserve a wild 28-24 victory over the winless Vikings on Sunday.

Kenneth Murray Jr. made the game-sealing interception in the end zone with 7 seconds left, snagging a ball that deflected off the chest of diving tight end T.J. Hockenson. On Minnesota’s previous possession, Michael Davis knocked down Cousins’ fourth-down throw to Justin Jefferson at the goal line.

The Vikings had that second chance thanks to the bold choice by Chargers coach Brandon Staley to go for it on fourth-and-1 at his own 24 inside the 2-minute warning. Joshua Kelley was stonewalled in the hole by Jonathan Bullard. But the Vikings (0-3) have simply lacked the late-game touch they had last season on the way to 11 wins in one-score games.

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Keenan Allen not only set career highs with 205 yards and 18 catches, but the 11th-year standout threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams on a trick play that gave the Chargers (1-2) a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter.

Herbert, who went 40 for 47 and set the franchise record with 213 consecutive attempts and counting without an interception, hit Donald Parham Jr. for two first-half touchdowns, including a fourth-and-goal grab with 50 seconds left before halftime.

In a dizzying final stretch between two potent offenses and teams in desperate situations after two straight losses, Cousins converted a fourth-down pass for a 36-yard touchdown to K.J. Osborn late in the third quarter. Then he hit Jefferson, who had 149 yards, for a 52-yard score and a 24-21 lead with 11:20 left.

Herbert guided the Chargers on a seven-play, 75-yard march to get back in front on a 30-yard touchdown pass Joshua Palmer with 8:05 left. Akayleb Evans almost made a diving interception, but the ball slipped through his hands, off his helmet and in the air to Palmer at the goal line.

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The Vikings gave up 259 rushing yards last week to Philadelphia, but with Austin Ekeler out again, the Chargers abandoned the running game. And why not? Herbert has the most completions in history for a player’s first four seasons, with a whopping 14 games to go to build on that total.

In this game between 2022 playoff teams, Staley got the edge on his friend Kevin O’Connell, who worked with him on the Los Angeles Rams’ staff in 2020.

For Staley and the Chargers, encouragement can be found in the fact that 31 teams have started 0-2 and made the playoffs since the NFL expanded the field in 1990. Cincinnati did so last season.

For O’Connell and the Vikings, the road looks rough. Only four teams since 1990 have made the playoffs after an 0-3 start: the Chargers (1992), Detroit (1995), Buffalo (1998) and Houston (2018).

The Vikings have fumbled seven times this season and lost them all. Hockenson was the latest culprit, surrendering a promising first possession at the 21-yard line as Alohi Gilman wrestled the ball away in a crowd of defenders. The Vikings have a minus-seven turnover ratio, the worst in the league.

Herbert became the second-fastest player in NFL history to reach 15,000 passing yards, in his 52nd career regular season game. Patrick Mahomes got there in 49 games.

The Chargers host the Las Vegas Raiders next Sunday, while the Vikings visit the Carolina Panthers.