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5 Takeaways: Bolts Defense Seals the Deal vs. Vikings


The Bolts are 1-2 after a 28-24 win over the Vikings.

Here are five takeaways from Week 3:

1. A clutch defense

By the time the scoreboard hit zeroes Sunday afternoon, Alohi Gilman had lost track of how many do-or-die situations the Chargers defense had persevered through.


The Bolts defense fended off 11 different plays in the final minutes of a 28-24 win where the Vikings offense had the ball in the red zone and were threatening to take the lead.

"We just did it one play at a time," Gilman said. "Honestly, I lost track of what down it was, I was just going to keep going until we were going to win the game.

"It was a great effort by everyone around, the secondary, front, linebackers. Just happy we won," Gilman added.

Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley said: "I thought our guys hung tough together. Our red-zone defense was outstanding and won us the game."

The final play, of course, was a game-sealing interception by Kenneth Murray, Jr., that was initially deflected by Nick Niemann.

"We just called one of our calls that we really like, they ran one of their favorite concepts to the field," Murray said. "Nick masked it really well. Obviously, they tipped it up, and I was just playing through the whistle, running to the ball, seen it in the air and got under it.

"That's always my mindset, just trying to finish every play. Obviously fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time," Murray added.

The Bolts led by four points when the Vikings had first-and-goal at the 3-yard line.

Minnesota gained two yards on the ground but then lost a yard to being up third-and-goal at the 2.

The Vikings looked for all-world receiver Justin Jefferson: incomplete.

Minnesota went back to Jefferson on fourth down but he was bottled up by Michael Davis to force a turnover on downs.

But with the Bolts offense unable to drain the clock (more on that below), the defense was called upon once again.

Minnesota took over at their own 24-yard line with 1 minute and 47 seconds left.

That's when the chaos ramped up a notch.

The Vikings nearly won the game with an interception in the end zone but a defensive penalty gave the Vikings a fresh set of downs.

Minnesota soon faced fourth-and-5 at the 15 and converted for nine yards. But with the clock winding down, Niemann and Murray teamed up to notch the takeaway. The Vikings scored just one touchdown on four total trips inside the 20-yard line Sunday.

"Hats off to them. When it comes down to it, defense is going to have to win the game at the end of the day," Keenan Allen said. "Defense wins championships, that's what it's always been about.

"We had the lead the past three weeks in the same situation and we've been short on two of those games," Allen added. "For them to come back today and bounce back and be able to rally and hold the rope, that was great."

Staley added: "Our group really had their best at the end, especially on defense."

2. Herbert lights it up

Looking at 0-2 hole to start the season, the Bolts turned to their best player Sunday.

Justin Herbert delivered … and then some.

The Chargers quarterback threw for 405 yards — the first 400-yard game of his career — and added a trio of touchdown passes in the win.

"Just shows you that he is one of the special players in the league," Staley said.

Herbert had perhaps the best game of his career while completing 40 of 47 passes (85.1 percent) to go along with a 123.8 quarterback rating.

And he did it while facing intense blitz packages for the Vikings all afternoon long.

"That defense really forced him to have a commanding performance. I mean, with the amount of pressure that was on him today, there was a lot of the zero pop-out pressure, and it was on him," Staley said.

"His performance carried us through that third quarter when he got really hot, and the most important thing that he does is he takes care of the ball," Staley added. "No turnovers today from him in a game where he is getting blitzed almost every single play. There are very few quarterbacks who can do that."

Herbert said: "They did bring a lot of pressure today. But I thought our offensive line and coaching staff did a great job of creating a protection plan."

Joshua Palmer said he could only smile as the game went on.

"I'm not surprised about any throws that he can make. You should know that by now," Palmer said. "I been here three years and I've never been surprised. Maybe my first year, but not anymore."

Herbert fired a pair of touchdown passes to Donald Parham Jr., with Palmer catching the third one.

There was a bit of luck involved, as a Vikings defender tipped the ball right into Palmer's hands as he fell into the end zone for a 30-yard score.

"Justin trusted me, threw it up and I came down with it, focusing on the ball," Palmer said. "Yeah, it was a pretty circus play, but I had to come down with it. I had to. I had no choice."

Through three games, Herbert has now thrown for 939 yards and six scores with no turnovers.

Allen said Herbert seemingly had it all figured out against a Brian Flores defense that loves to bring pressure.

"Resilient," Allen said of Herbert. "The first time that we played them … [when] Flores was in Miami, it was tough. We were kind of mind boggled out there, we didn't know who to be looking at, they kind of fooled us half the game.

"Today, we had that number on every play. Herbo was in there, he was settled down, not getting rattled at all," Allen added. "Every time he came to the sidelines we had more answers and more answers so it was great."

3. Going for the win

The game was on the line, and the Bolts were going for the win.

"Just got to get a yard," Herbert said.

The Bolts faced fourth-and-1 at the Minnesota 24-yard line with just under two minutes to play Sunday.

Staley kept his offense on the field. With Minnesota out of timeouts, a first down mean the game was over.

"We felt like we had the play to finish with the ball. We were protecting four points, not three, so that was part of my thought process," Staley said. "I believe in our group. We came here to win, and that's what we were trying to do."

Joshua Kelley's rushing attempt was short, and the Chargers turned the ball back over to the Vikings.

But even though the play didn't want, the Chargers locker room supported the decision.

"It was only a yard," Derwin James, Jr. said. "If we need a yard to win the game, why not?"

Murray added: "I'm always going to ride with him when it comes to that."

Allen said: "Everybody in the huddle was vouching for it."

Herbert noted the play falls on the entire unit to execute.

"That's on us as an offense to be able to get that. But I love the thinking behind it and we believe in our defense," Herbert said.

Staley, who has been known to go for it on fourth down in his coaching career, gave a lengthy answer explaining his motivation to keep the offense on the field.

"If I would have been affected [by outside noise], we wouldn't have gone for it. We would have punted it," Staley said. "It was fourth down and less than a yard. They had no timeouts, and I believe in our offense. I believe in our offensive line, our tight ends, our quarterback.

"I felt like we had a good play for what they would be in. It didn't go down. We were protecting four points, not three," Staley continued. "Again, if it was a three-point game, it would have been a different decision.

"I felt like the defense could play the way they did down the stretch, and again, I've got full confidence in our group. It's your job as a head coach to make sure your team knows you have belief in them," Staley added. "I think we came here to win. It was a tough road game against a team that made the playoffs, so we were trying to go win the game, and I make no apologies for that."

4. Victory No. 1

There was certainly a sense of relief in the Chargers postgame locker room.

"An important win," Staley said. "It was a nail-biter, and we've played in three of them.

"I think for our guys to come alive in all three phases in the fourth quarter and finish the game was really important," Staley added. "It was a team win, and I thought our guys really came through in the clutch, and we finished the game the way that we expect to."

The Bolts lost their first two games of the season by a combined five points. And although this was another one-score game, the Chargers found a way to get the job done.

Even in one of the toughest visiting venues in the NFL.

"It's a very loud place. They do a good job of staying involved in the game," Herbert said. "Definitely a fun experience to play in. Got a lot of respect for that team."

The Bolts now turn their attention to the Raiders at home in Week 4 before a bye the following weekend.

"They don't get any easier," Herbert said. "The NFL is tough and we just played a really good football team. Anytime we can walk away with a win … it's awesome to see."

Get an inside look at the postgame celebration from the Chargers first win of the season, a 28-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

5. Defending Jefferson

Justin Jefferson got his stats Sunday with seven catches for 149 yards and a score.

The Chargers will gladly take the win, even while they did everything they could to slow him down.

"We were trying. We were trying to mix it up. Like I said, there's a reason why he is so productive. I mean, everyone is trying to engineer their thing around him," Staley said.

"I thought our guys competed. I thought he had to beat us today, and that's what we wanted was for him to have to beat us. I think what our group did today is they hung tough," Staley continued. "That group in the secondary today hung tough, and they played their best in the red zone."

The Bolts went with the three-man cornerback group of Asante Samuel, Jr., Davis and Ja'Sir Taylor, the latter of which played in the slot.

J.C. Jackson was inactive in what Staley called a "coaches' decision."

"Just we felt like going into this game that this was the group that we wanted to play with in this game," Staley said. "Felt like it was going to give us the best chance. That's what we did today. And I was really proud of the way our defense played today, especially the secondary.

"Our guys really competed today against a good offensive group, and that group really brought us home at the end of the game," Staley added.

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