Chargers head coach Brandon Staley’s fourth-down decision-making has made him a magnet for criticism over the last few years and he set himself up for more brickbats in Minnesota on Sunday.
Staley opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 24-yard-line while leading by four points with just under two minutes left to play. Running back Joshua Kelley was stuffed short of the line and the Vikings got the ball in prime position to pull out a win.
They couldn’t get the job done, thanks in part to the noise of their home crowd, and Staley said after the game that he had no second thoughts about his decision.
“It was fourth down and less than a yard,” Staley said in his postgame press conference. “They had no timeouts. And I believe in our offense. I believe in our offensive line, our tight ends, our quarterback. I felt like we had a good play for what they would be in, and it didn’t go down. We were protecting four points, not three. Again, if it was a three-point play it would have been a different decision. I felt like our defense could play the way it did down the stretch. Again, I’ve got full confidence in our group. It’s your job as a head coach to make sure your team knows you have belief in them. We came here to win. It was a tough road game against a team that made the playoffs, so we were trying to go win the game. I make no apologies for that.”
Wide receiver Keenan Allen told PFT that he liked the decision and other Chargers players shared similar views in their postgame comments, but one imagines the reactions would have been a bit different had the Vikings found a way to finish off a 24-yard drive with a touchdown.
Crowd noise is generally a problem for offenses when teams are playing on the road, but that wasn’t the case for the Vikings on Sunday.
After a pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson for a first down with 35 seconds left to play, the Vikings took 23 seconds before running their next play from the Chargers’ 6-yard-line. Kirk Cousins looked for Hockenson in the end zone, but the ball was tipped and intercepted to seal a 28-24 Los Angeles win.
Cousins said after the game that the delay was because he could not get the play call from head coach Kevin O’Connell due to the crowd noise at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Just couldn’t hear him with the noise,” Cousins said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com. “Just ended up calling a play, and the play I called was the same play he was trying to get to.”
O’Connell said he didn’t “ultimately think time was the issue with the game ending the way it did” but, in hindsight, “just wish I would have clocked it” so that the team could gather itself before trying for a touchdown that would have avoided an 0-3 start to the season.
Every Sunday night, the Football Night in America crew tries to make sense of the day that was in the National Football League.
Which means we did it again last night, after a weird and memorable third full day of NFL action in the 2023 regular season.
So have a look or a listen or both at the breakdown from Jason Garrett, Devin McCourty, Maria Taylor, Matthew Berry, and me.
The biggest news of the day included the Dolphins scoring 70, the Patriots continuing their mastery of the Jets, the Chiefs extending the Bears’ very bad week, the Cardinals shocking the Cowboys, and the Vikings out-Chargering the Chargers.
Last year, Chargers receiver Keenan Allen objected loudly on social media to a failed decision by coach Brandon Staley to go for it on fourth and one.
On Sunday, Allen was supportive of the move.
Leading 28-24 with less than two minutes to play and the ball on their own 24, the Chargers faced fourth and one. Staley decided to go for it. Allen supported the move, even though it didn’t work out.
“I think everybody in the huddle was wanting to go for it,” Allen told PFT by phone after the win. “We were pretty much in the huddle just saying, ‘Dog, like, just quarterback sneak it. And you know just let [quarterback Justin Herbert] go and get it.”
Allen ultimately agreed with the decision to hand the ball off, given that “they had the gaps all filled up so it would have been tough for the QB sneak.”
What about the Eagles’ approach to short yards, where they line players up behind the quarterback and push?
“I actually thought about that one,” Allen said. “Once we didn’t get it. I was like, damn, we should probably put that in.”
It still worked out for the Chargers, just like it did last year against the Browns, when Cleveland couldn’t capitalize on the failed fourth-down decision with which Allen disagreed.
Vikings fans were nervous when star wide receiver Justin Jefferson went down late in today’s loss to the Chargers, but Jefferson is fine.
A league source told PFT that Jefferson does not have any injury from today’s game and was merely experiencing some cramping toward the end of a tough game.
Jefferson was outstanding, catching seven passes for 149 yards and one touchdown. He has a whopping 458 receiving yards through three games this season, putting him on pace for a ridiculous 2,595 yards in a 17-game season.
It’s not realistic to think Jefferson is going to keep up this torrid pace, but it is reasonable to think he’ll have plenty more big games ahead of him, and he’s healthy heading into the Vikings’ Week Four game against the Panthers.