Nick Novak‘s 45-yard field goal as time expired gave the Chargers a 12-10 victory on Friday over Minnesota, after Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder struggled along with the rest of the starting offense.
Nate Kaeding made field goals of 50 and 54 yards for the Chargers. Novak, the token training camp competitor who’ll most likely be cut next week, kicked two of his own.
The Chargers had a scare in the third quarter when first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram, the outside linebacker from South Carolina, limped off in pain after trainers looked at his left knee. But the team later announced he was treated for a thigh bruise.
Sage Rosenfels threw a late touchdown pass to Matt Asiata, who lost one of three Vikings fumbles earlier in the second half. His was at the San Diego 2-yard line. Lex Hilliard and Derrick Coleman (at the San Diego 18) also coughed up the ball, and Ponder showed his inexperience while throwing an interception. He finished 9 for 16 for 115 yards.
Further proving the irrelevancy of preseason results, the Chargers have won all three of their games despite a slew of injuries and a nonexistent running attack without starter Ryan Mathews, who’s recovering from a broken collarbone and will miss another two to four weeks.
They rested quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, and the left side of the offensive line was out with injuries: center Nick Harwick (concussion), guard Tyronne Green (foot) and tackle Jared Gaither (back). The backups had a lot of trouble, too. All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen gave undrafted rookie Mike Harris, Gaither’s replacement, all he could handle with two first-half sacks.
Wide receivers Vincent Brown (ankle) and Eddie Royal (groin) have been out, too, so Charlie Whitehurst didn’t have much support. He finished 8 for 18 for 82 yards.
With such a no-name lineup across from them, judging the Vikings on defense was difficult, too. But they put constant pressure on Whitehurst and, with the starters playing one series into the second half, held the Chargers to 45 yards rushing on 20 attempts through three quarters. The Chargers are barely averaging 2 yards per carry in the preseason. Rookie Edwin Baker led the way with 13 yards on 35 rushes.
The most encouraging development for the Vikings (No. 29 in the AP Pro32) was probably in pregame warmups, when running back Adrian Peterson took part in drills to continue to ramp up his rehabilitation. He’s close to returning from reconstructive surgery on his left knee. The Vikings, though, lost promising rookie cornerback and punt returner Josh Robinson to a possible concussion in the second quarter.
After a solid performance in limited action over their first two exhibitions, Ponder and the Vikings offense were anything but smooth. Playing into the third quarter, Ponder had spotty protection, taking five sacks, though he probably held the ball too long on two of them. Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins each had catchable passes go in and out of their hands, too.
Ponder managed to throw a spot-on 40-yard completion to Harvin while Ingram tried to take him down by the shoulder, but many of his other passes were erratic. The worst one was in the second quarter when he pivoted to throw to Harvin on an out route toward the sideline without looking away first. Both Greg Gatson and DeAndre Presley were there, and Presley came down with the interception after they bobbled it together but kept it from touching the turf on their way down.
This was originally ruled an incompletion, as Hilliard’s fumble was declared down by contact first. Both calls were overturned after the Chargers challenged on a busy night for the replacement officials crew led by referee Wayne Elliott. The Chargers alone were called for 11 penalties in the first half.
Minnesota’s offensive possessions in the first half? Punt, punt, missed field goal, fumble, interception, punt, punt and, finally, a 29-yard field goal by Blair Walsh.