Home crowd noise dooms Vikings' final playcall

MINNEAPOLIS — An unusual and chaotic scene played out Sunday afternoon in the final seconds of the Los Angeles Chargers’ 28-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings had converted a fourth down to the Chargers’ 6-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. They had no timeouts, but instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, they attempted to line up and quick-snap the Chargers, hoping to score the winning touchdown before the defense was fully set.

There was one problem. The crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium was so loud that quarterback Kirk Cousins couldn’t hear coach Kevin O’Connell’s playcall, both Cousins and O’Connell said afterward. A full 23 seconds ran off the clock as Cousins tried to hear O’Connell, and eventually just decided to call a play on his own. It ended with a tipped pass toward tight end T.J. Hockenson that Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. intercepted to seal the game with seven seconds left.

“Just couldn’t hear him with the noise,” Cousins said. “Just ended up calling a play, and the play I called was the same play he was trying to get to.”

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NFL teams encourage crowds to be loud when the defense is on the field and to minimize noise when they are on offense. The crowd of 66,878 at U.S Bank Stadium got excited after the fourth-down conversion, and many could be heard encouraging the Vikings to spike the ball to maximize the number of plays they would get to score from the 6-yard line.

“Sometimes that happens,” O’Connell said of the home crowd fan noise. “It’s not always noticed when we’re in a normal two-minute mode.”

O’Connell made clear that he didn’t think that the ticking clock impacted the execution of the play. But given how the scene played out, he acknowledged that spiking the ball would have been a better option.

“My expectations are always sky-high for our group,” O’Connell said, “so I’m trying to steal one more play. But clearly with that much time going off the clock, even though I don’t think ultimately think time was the issue with the game ending the way it did, but certainly … that one was purely on me, trying to be too aggressive in that moment. Definitely looking back on it, just wish I would have clocked it. No matter the benefit we had going fast, the value was not received clearly with what that execution looked like in that moment.”

In theory, Cousins said, he could have decided to spike the ball on his own. But he said he tries “not to make a habit of” making such unilateral decisions during games.

“I mean I could do anything I want,” Cousins said. “I can do the quarterback sneak. I can do whatever I want, but at the same time you also have to deal with the consequences. Against Buffalo last year I snuck it on my own and didn’t get in, so until you know the future it’s hard to know whether to take the reins or not, but I’ve done it before.”

The sequence was one of many that went the Chargers’ way Sunday, including what turned out to be the winning score: a 30-yard pass from quarterback Justin Herbert that tipped off the hands of Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans and into those of receiver Joshua Palmer. But the Vikings dominated those situations in 2022 en route to winning 11 games by one score. They have played three one-score games in 2023 and lost them all.

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