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Justin Jefferson, Defense Lead Vikings to Much-Needed 27-20 Victory over Chargers

The Vikings snap a two-game losing streak and are back in the No. 7 seed in the NFC.

Mike Zimmer was tired of letting teams hang around, games that come down to the final play, and kickers deciding things. So he went for the kill.

Facing 4th and 2 from the Chargers' 36, the Vikings could've attempted a 53-yard field goal to grow their 27-20 lead with 2:30 remaining in another dramatic game. But a make is far from automatic at that distance, and whether it went through the uprights or not, that would've meant giving the Los Angeles offense the ball back. So Zimmer made the gutsy call to go for it, and it paid off as Dalvin Cook took a pitch to the right side and burst upfield for a game-sealing conversion.

Instead of playing not to lose, the Vikings played to win. And for the first time since Week 3, they were able to line up in victory formation to end a game that wasn't determined on the very last play.

This was a huge win for the Vikings. They were coming off heartbreaking losses against the Cowboys and Ravens, a pair of winnable games in which the Vikings couldn't hold onto leads. They needed this one against a talented Chargers team, and both sides of the ball stepped up to make it happen.

Offensively, Justin Jefferson was the star of the show. The Vikings talked this week about wanting to get their superstar wide receiver the ball more frequently, considering he had just nine targets and five catches over the two previous games. They did exactly that, with Jefferson being targeted 11 times and turning it into nine catches for 143 yards. He also drew a pass interference penalty. 

Just about every time the Vikings needed a big play, Jefferson stepped up and made it happen. Seven of his nine catches went for first downs, including three third-down grabs. He converted a third down on the final play of the third quarter, extending a drive that wound up in a Dalvin Cook touchdown run and put the Vikings up 27-17. Then he made his biggest grab on another third down during Minnesota's decisive final possession, twisting his body to gain 27 yards and move the chains.

It was another incredible performance by the sensational wideout. The Chargers have one of the NFL's best secondaries and they didn't stand a chance against Jefferson. The lesson here is that good things happen when the ball goes his way, and the Vikings need to continue peppering him with targets the rest of the season.

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Kirk Cousins played an effective game, completing 25 of 37 attempts for 294 yards and two touchdown passes to Tyler Conklin, although he did lose a fumble in the first half. Adam Thielen also made some key plays with five catches for 65 yards, and Cook piled up 118 yards and a TD on 27 touches, including the game-ender. Offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak also called his best game in a while. The only things marring this offensive performance were a slow start on third downs (1 for 8 early on, then 4 for 6 after that) and a bunch of penalties on the offensive line. That the Vikings committed 10 penalties for 118 yards and still won shows you how well they played.

Zimmer's defense also played a heck of a game despite being without five starters in Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Harrison Smith, Patrick Peterson, and Anthony Barr. They held a Chargers offense that was averaging 385 yards per game to just 253, with Justin Herbert failing to eclipse 200 yards passing despite having 34 attempts.

Eric Kendricks was brilliant all afternoon, tying his career-high from his rookie season with his fourth sack of the year and later snagging a diving interception. Cam Bynum appeared to play another strong game in place of Smith, getting his first career sack on a blitz and making plays in coverage. Xavier Woods and others also stepped up in key moments and Zimmer called a great game, flummoxing Herbert.

This was a performance that demonstrates why it's too early to give up on the 2021 Vikings just yet. When they aren't shooting themselves in the foot and letting teams hang around, they might just be a good football team. You don't become the only team in the league to have a lead of 7 points or more in every single game this year completely by accident. If they can clean up the penalties, they could be even better.

The Vikings are now 4-5 and a half-game behind the Panthers for the No. 7 seed in the NFC. They have a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Panthers. Next week brings a huge home game against the division-leading Packers in the first of two games between the hated rivals.

With eight games left on the schedule, don't count the Vikings out just yet.

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