The Vikings opened Sunday's 28-24 loss to the Chargers with a message — the rushing attack wasn't going to be a nonfactor in this game.
Running back Alexander Mattison opened the first possession with five straight carries for 31 yards, finding creases behind a wave of commitment from coach Kevin O'Connell, who had called among the fewest runs in the NFL through the first two weeks.
Mattison, who finished with 20 carries for 93 yards, started the game with gains of 6, 8 and 13 yards while running into Chargers territory. The Vikings finished with a season-high 130 rushing yards.
"It's easy to keep calling them when you're moving the chains and the runs look like that," O'Connell said. "We challenged those guys to win the line of scrimmage, and Alex was running it really hard."
Mattison enjoyed some refreshingly clear lanes. The Chargers defense had more teeth in the pass rush. Perhaps that's why O'Connell kept going back to the run. Mattison hopes that built some trust between the play caller and the run game.
"Definitely was a little bit surprising getting some of those back-to-back-to-back [carries]," Mattison said. "But that's what we love. ... To be efficient feels good, and to establish some trust in our run game that we can get rolling."
Mattison technically had no fumbles on Sunday, but twice the ball left his hands and he had to lobby officials that his forward progress was stopped or he was down before he fumbled. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley challenged and failed to overturn the first time Mattison had the ball stripped, when he was ruled down by contact.
Mattison, who lost a fumble in Philadelphia in Week 2, said Chargers defenders were attacking the ball after the whistle. The Chargers did take the ball away from tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first quarter, bringing the Vikings' fumble total to seven.
"I know I have great ball security; it's just about being intentional every single play," Mattison said.
The Vikings still extended a forgettable streak: Their offense has now gone 12 consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher dating back to the Nov. 13 win at Buffalo last season. Only the Giants and Chiefs — at 13 games — have longer active streaks in the NFL.
Fullback C.J. Ham, a 250-pound bruiser, liked O'Connell leaning into the run game with heavy personnel groupings, featuring himself and two to three tight ends. For the first time this season, the Vikings held the ball longer than their opponent did.
"We got great backs with Alex and Ty [Chandler] going in there," Ham said. "Getting those guys rolling helps us as a team, helps us with time of possession, field position, being able to control the game. It was nice to get those guys rolling."
They just struggled to convert touchdowns at the goal line. That's where O'Connell's commitment seemed to wane. The Vikings executed five rushing plays to nine passes inside the Chargers 20-yard line, prior to the final possession when they needed to stop the clock. Mattison was stuffed behind the line on an attempt from Los Angeles 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Mattison got another vote of confidence from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
"We ran the football really well," Cousins said, "and I think we have the people we need to be able to do that, and so that showed today."
Former Rams running back Cam Akers, acquired via trade on Wednesday, did not play. He's expected to make his Vikings debut on Oct. 1 in Carolina.