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Vikings’ defense rides next-man-up attitude against Chargers

Minnesota’s defense was missing five starters: defensive tackle Michael Pierce, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Danielle Hunter, and defensive backs Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson.

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Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) celebrates after he intercepted a pass in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, at SoFi Stadium. Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today Sports
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INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks set the tone on defense early on against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday afternoon.

His sack on the first defensive series of the game sent a direct message to the Chargers that the Vikings may have been shorthanded on defense, but they weren’t lacking motivation.

Kendricks added an interception later in the first half that led to a touchdown, and the Vikings rallied again in the second half for a 27-20 victory at SoFi Stadium.

The win ended a two-game losing streak in which the Vikings lost by a combined seven points.

“The interception by Kendricks was big time,” Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said. “I thought that was a heck of a deal, and the sack he had early in the game was big, too, because they got out of that protection the rest of the day.”

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Minnesota’s defense was missing five starters: defensive tackle Michael Pierce, linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Danielle Hunter, and defensive backs Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson.

“Next man up,” Kendricks said. “Obviously, some of those guys are some real ballers, but at the same time we have some guys that are anxious for their opportunity. You never know when it’s going to come in this league. We prepare to win and these are really smart guys as well, and they’re ready for it.”

Camryn Bynum started his second straight game at strong safety, and the Southern California native came up with a key sack on third-and-4 from the San Diego 14-yard line early in the second quarter.

The Vikings took over on the next possession and marched down the field, taking the lead for good 20-17 on a 2-yard touchdown reception by tight end Tyler Conklin, his second TD of the game.

“We need people to step up for us and show their abilities in that situation,” Kendricks said. “It’s awesome that he’s been able to do well for us these past two games.”

Kendricks’ second interception of the season and fifth in the past two seasons came during a key point of the game.

The Vikings were holding a 6-3 lead after trading field goals with the Chargers.

Herbert looked for wide receiver Keenan Allen on an out route, but Kendricks turned his head at just the right time and the ball settled in his arms.

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“I saw (Allen) bending, and I decided that if I kind of speed-turn it, I’ll have the opportunity to not only play the person who was coming underneath but also kind of shelter that route he was running,” Kendricks said. “So, I kind of speed-turned it, and it worked out. I saw the ball pretty late, and got out there.”

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Minnesota linebacker Nick Vigil hits Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. The Vikings won 27-20. Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today Sports
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