The NFL's replacement officials continued their preseason struggles in embarrassing fashion during the second quarter of the Vikings' 12-10 loss to the Chargers at Mall of America Field on Friday night.
Both blunders went against the Chargers, causing coach Norv Turner to waste two of his challenges within four minutes. Teams get two challenges to start the game and receive only one extra challenge if they win their first two. Turner easily won both of his challenges and never needed a third.
With 12 minutes, 27 seconds left in the half, Vikings running back Lex Hilliard clearly fumbled the ball away. But the closest official ruled him down.
A disgusted Turner whipped his red challenge flag high into the air before the Vikings had a chance to snap the next play into action. The ruling was overturned, giving the Chargers got the ball at the Vikings 31-yard line. Seven plays later, they kicked a 34-yard field goal to take a 6-0 lead.
Four minutes later, at the 8:32 mark of the quarter, the officials blew another easy call when they ruled an interception by Chargers defensive back DeAndre Presley an incompletion. There was no doubt the ball was caught by Presley. So Turner threw his flag again, this time just lobbing underhand.
After the game, Vikings outspoken punter Chris Kluwe let the officials have it via Twitter, saying: "The NFL really needs to kiss and make up with the refs. These replacements are horrible. Frankly, it's kind of embarrassing."
Dire situation at safety
Starting safeties Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford were still on the field at the end of a meaningless preseason game because, well, the Vikings had no other healthy safeties to put out there.
Mistral Raymond experience lower-back tightness during pregame warmups and didn't play. Rookie Robert Blanton, who recently returned to practice after a hamstring injury, was held out. Meanwhile, safeties Eric Frampton (groin) and Andrew Sendejo (ankle) also were injured. Also hurt Friday night were tight end Rhett Ellison (knee) and cornerbacks Josh Robinson (concussion) and Marcus Sherels (ankle). Frazier didn't know the severity of the injuries Friday night.
Smith can expect a fine
Smith was called for unnecessary roughness for a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Mike Willie with 1:35 left in the game. He can expect a fine from the league sometime in the near future.
"I thought maybe I could go for the ball, then I realized I should go for the hit, so I kind of got caught in the middle," Smith said. "I wish I didn't get the penalty. Maybe I could have played it differently. I'll watch the film. It's easy to watch on TV and say, 'You should hit him here or there.'"
Chargers take a dive
After losing running back Ryan Mathews and receiver Vincent Brown to significant injuries in each of the first two preseason games, the Chargers deactivated 18 players, including seven starters, before Friday night's game. Six offensive starters didn't play, including quarterback Philip Rivers. Charlie Whitehurst started at quarterback.
"When you're playing against backups, you should dominate as a defense, and we did," defensive end Jared Allen said.
The Vikings had six sacks. Allen and linebacker Jasper Brinkley had two apiece.
• Deactivated before the game for the Vikings were receiver Kamar Jorden, cornerback Chris Cook, fullback Ryan D'Imperio, running back Adrian Peterson, tight end Jeff Carlson, defensive tackle Letroy Guion and guards Bridger Buche and Geoff Schwartz. Chris Carr started in place of Cook at left cornerback.