In NFL circles, the third preseason game is cleverly referred to as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Teams use the third game to hone their timing for Week 1 by playing their starting units longer than in any of the other exhibition contests before resting the regulars in the fourth game in an effort to preserve their health. Suffice it to say Friday night's dress rehearsal didn't exactly go as planned for your Minnesota Vikings.
Yes, the Chargers needed a walk-off field goal to win the game 12-10. But anyone who witnessed what took place at Mall of America Field knows this was not at all what Leslie Frazier had in mind.
Before delving head-first into the negativity, know that I looked really hard to find a silver lining in Friday's messy showing. Believe me, I did. And the best I could come up with was that a fan won a trip to Cancun during a first-half promotion down on the field. Seriously, that's the best I could do.
The Vikings defense held the Chargers to 202 total yards and no touchdowns. Normally that would be impressive, but the Bolts didn't get the memo on the whole "dress rehearsal" deal. San Diego de-activated 18 players, including three-fifths of their injured offensive line starters, injured starting running back Ryan Mathews, as well as completely healthy quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates.
Holding Charlie Whitehurst in check just isn't the same as flummoxing Rivers.
The Vikings' first-team offense was utterly listless, as Christian Ponder led the starters to three points even though they played deep into the third quarter.
The closest thing to a first-team offensive highlight came about midway through the second quarter when Christian Ponder finally hooked up with Percy Harvin downfield after a few earlier missed connections. The 40-yard, over-the-shoulder grab was a thing of beauty… but was quickly followed three plays later by a Chargers interception with 8:32 remaining in the first half. The pick was ruled a drop at first, but the fill-in referees overturned the call while Vikings fans amused themselves by doing the wave and paying no discernible attention to the game. If this had been a regular season game, the reversal would have been the fans' cue to boo lustily and berate the refs even though it was the right call.
Yeah, it was a bad dress rehearsal for the fans too.
It was kind of hard to blame them, given what they were watching. However, I have no excuses for the woman who quite literally failed the dress rehearsal by wearing a No. 85 Jim Kleinsasser jersey. I had to double-check the media guide to be sure, but Jimmy never wore any number other than 40 with the Vikes. Sigh.
Other sad trombone performances included first-round draft pick Matt Kalil looking like a rookie for the first time this preseason. Chargers pass-rushers seemed to give him consistent trouble and the big left tackle was beaten in the first quarter for a sack by Chargers linebacker Larry English – that's third-string linebacker Larry English if you are following along on your Chargers depth chart.
Backup running back Matt Asiata made the strongest bid at being my Vikings silver-lining player, rushing for 48 yards on nine carries and scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just under two minutes left, but the silver was tarnished somewhat by the third-quarter fumble he lost at the Chargers' four-yard line. Fellow running backs Lex Hillard and Derrick Coleman also coughed up fumbles.
In all the Vikings turned the ball over four times, punted five times, allowed five sacks and were flagged six times for 81 yards.
It was more mess rehearsal than dress rehearsal.
One week after selling a heaping helping of hope to their fans with a 36-14 shellacking of the Bills it seems the Vikes have a lot more rehearsing to do between now and the start of the real games. It's enough to make you wonder whether they might call an audible and give their starters a little extra run next Thursday in their preseason finale against Houston.