There’s a strong case to be made for awarding a game ball to Vikings defense end Danielle Hunter (or as Trent Green might call him: Dah-nell) for the second week in a row.
Hunter had a hand in three turnovers, forcing two fumbles and recovering another; he made four solo tackles, one assist, and recorded one sack.
In the first quarter, Hunter popped the ball out from Melvin Gordon III‘s grasp and Harrison Smith pounced on it for the recovery.
Then, on the first play of the second half, Hunter recovered a Shamar Stephen forced fumble to absolutely demoralize the Chargers.
But it was the play to close the first half that really turned the game around.
With the Vikings up by only two points there 23 seconds left in the half and the Chargers were driving and looking to go ahead before halftime. On second and two, with the ball at the Vikings 26 yard line, the Chargers had time to take a few shots before attempting a field goal, if it came to that. Either way, they were well positioned to score.
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers took the snap from shotgun only to find Danielle Hunter plowing right tackle Sam Tevi into his lap with a bull rush. With Tevi at his feet, Rivers tucked the ball away and tried to step back to avoid Tevi but it was too late. Hunter poked the ball out of this grasp and onto the grass.
Vikings defensive tackle Ifeadi Odenigbo was on the spot but could not corrall the ball and it squirted away. When Chargers running back Austin Ekeler tried to scoop up the loose ball, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks was there to knock the ball from his grasp. Two fumbles on one play!
That gave Odenigbo his second opportunity and he made the most of it by securing the ball. While Odenigbo raced toward the end zone, Eric Kendricks was still hanging on to Ekeler to prevent him from chasing down his teammate and Danielle Hunter was racing ahead to provide lead blocking, which he did by knocking Chargers left tackle Russell Okung on his ass.
It was a team effort but the 56-yard fumble recover was also Odenigbo’s first score. Ever. As a football player.
It was cute to watch Hunter try and help Odenigbo leap into the stands after his score. Just coudn’t do it.
The Star Tribune‘s Mark Craig quoted him after the game:
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.”Danielle Hunter’s big day included big play that sprung Vikings loose
Odenigbo finished the day with two solo tackles, a sack, a fumble recovery and a touchdown. What a day.
For the record, it’s pronounced: i-FAH-dee Oh-DEN-i-BOE.
Vikings safety Harrison Smith had a pretty good day.
Smith had five solo tackles, one assist, recovered that Hunter forced fumble, had one pass defended, and this interception of Rivers with 2:07 left in the second quarter, as the Chargers were trying to score going into halftime.
Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks has been outstanding all season long and Sunday was no exception.
Kendricks had five solo tackles and two assists yesterday, was superb in coverage again, created the second opportunity for Ifeadi Odenigbo to recover the fumble he took for a score and had the presence of mind to keep running back Austin Ekeler from chasing the play down from the backside.
He also forced a fumble late in the game that Trae Waynes advanced into the Chargers’ red zone.
The Defense As A Whole
So many contributions. Shamar Stephen had the forced fumble. Anthony Harris and Mike Hughes had interceptions.
Though technically special teams, Eric Wilson blocked a punt and Kris Boyd helped down another inside the Chargers five yard line.
It was a group effort and they all deserve credit so the game ball goes to the whole unit. This, after all, was the defense we were all wringing our hands over going into this game.