CARSON, Calif. – Coach Mike Zimmer and some Vikings defenders said they were “fortunate” to force seven takeaways against the Chargers during Sunday’s 39-10 victory, but they had an inkling takeaways were up for grabs against a bumbling Los Angeles team that entered the game with the NFL’s fourth-worst turnover differential, at minus-10.
After Sunday it’s minus-16, tied with the Bengals for the NFL’s worst.
A gaudy seven takeaways, including a fumble returned 56 yards for a touchdown by defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo, were the most for a Vikings defense since quarterback Warren Moon and Steelers quarterback Jim Miller squared off on Sept. 24, 1995.
“I know it hasn’t happened for the Vikings in 25 years or something,” Zimmer said. “We were fortunate today in some things. [The Chargers’ Philip] Rivers is a great quarterback.”
Some takeaways, such as the final one when safety Anthony Harris intercepted Rivers’ Hail Mary attempt, could be considered lucky. Defensive end Danielle Hunter, who forced two fumbles and recovered another, claimed the Vikings’ first takeaway was also fortunate when he jarred the ball loose from running back Melvin Gordon at the Chargers 11.
“That was just a tackle,” Hunter said. “My hand happened to hit the ball and it came out.”
But defensive tackle Shamar Stephen, who forced the second Gordon fumble on the first play of the third quarter, said the Vikings were well aware that Rivers took chances — sometimes unnecessarily — and Chargers running backs could loosely carry the ball.
“Sometimes the ball bounces your way,” Harris said. “Sometimes you get those fumbles and it bounces back to the offensive player. We just kept flying to the ball and tried to be ready for opportunities.”
Sunday was the 10th consecutive game the Vikings defense forced at least one takeaway, which is the longest such streak under Zimmer. The boosted confidence was perhaps needed most by the Vikings secondary, which came up with three interceptions.
On his sixth third-down attempt, Rivers threw off his back foot with Odenigbo in his face. The lob was intercepted by safety Harrison Smith.
Cornerback Mike Hughes later came down with his second NFL interception when Rivers forced a pass to receiver Mike Williams, despite Hughes covering underneath and Harris over the top.
Whether by luck or great plays, Vikings defenders only had trouble dividing the credit between themselves and the football gods.
“It felt good to finally get my hands on one,” Hughes said. “I look forward to getting some more. I want to give a lot of the credit to the defensive line, forcing pressure and the quarterback into some bad throws.”