CARSON, Calif. – Danielle Hunter — a “freak show in a good way,” as teammate Harrison Smith calls him — was asked if knocking both offensive tackles onto their backsides on the same play was a career high.
“Wait,” he said with a puzzled look in the aftermath of the Vikings’ 39-10, seven-takeaway beatdown of the Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park. “What happened?”
Well, Danielle, that’s exactly what you did on the play of the day in a game that saw you rack up a sack, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, six tackles and one serious case to win a second consecutive NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.
Following the Vikings’ only turnover of the game, the Chargers faced second-and-2 from the Vikings 26-yard line while trailing only 12-10 with 23 seconds left in the first half.
The Chargers wanted to throw deep. In an effort to help right tackle Sam Tevi deal with Hunter, they had running back Austin Ekeler slam into him with a physical chip.
“I didn’t even notice the chipper,” said the 6-5, 252-pound block of granite. “I was locked in on my tackle. I went with my power move.”
Boy, did he ever.
Tevi landed on his back at the 35-yard line, 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage, as Hunter was simultaneously reaching his left arm out to punch the ball away from Philip Rivers for the second of Rivers’ four turnovers in the game.
Backup defensive tackle Ifeadi Odenigbo was right there, but …
“At first, I picked up the ball and it fell out of my hand,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh, no. what’s going on?!’ ”
Never fear, Ifeadi. Linebacker Eric Kendricks was blanketing Ekeler in coverage when he saw Ekeler go for the loose ball.
“I just waited ’til he picked it up,” Kendricks said. “Then I swatted it out of his hands.”
Odenigbo got the mulligan he was looking for as he tried again to scoop and score.
“I said, ‘Great, I get a second chance,’ ” Odenigbo said. “I was getting tired and then I saw Danielle put on an excellent block.”
Hunter had raced ahead of Odenigbo as left tackle Russell Okung was lumbering into view. And that, Danielle, is when you planted your second offensive tackle on his butt.
After that, it was pretty much just two extremely fast defensive players finishing off a 56-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown.
“It was pretty cool,” Odenigbo said. “That was my first-ever career touchdown. I never got one in high school. Never got one in college. … I grew up a Chargers fan just because of LaDainian Tomlinson and watching Philip Rivers. To be able to play [Rivers and the Chargers] and to score my first touchdown is pretty cool.”
And the Chargers never recovered.
“It really did change the game,” Smith said. “They probably kick a field goal or whatever there before the half. So, it’s a 10-point swing. That’s a big deal.”
A huge deal on a day filled with big ones. Not since Sept. 24, 1995, against Pittsburgh had the Vikings picked up seven takeaways in one game.
“It kind of snowballed there, huh?” Ekeler said in the understatement of the day. “I feel like we couldn’t catch a break with turnovers. Pretty uncharacteristic of us.”
Actually, it’s pretty typical. Rivers leads the NFL with 18 interceptions and the Chargers are now a league-worst minus-16 in turnover ratio.
Hunter was involved directly in three takeaways. And on the play of the game, he not only pancaked both tackles, he also showcased stunning speed as a lead blocker.
“I’m not surprised,” Smith said of Hunter’s speed. “I mean, it is shocking from like a human standpoint. But I guess just because we see it a lot [it’s not]. But they’re freaks. All of them.”
So freakish that an NFL player actually admitted to maybe being slower than another NFL player.
“He’s probably faster than I am,” Smith said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a freak show. In a good way.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org