Both teams are going to be watched with immense scrutiny: the Vikings, for their acquisition of Donovan McNabb and the Chargers, for their ability to become legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
In a game that saw its narrative dominated by defense, both defensive units prevailed. But ultimately, the Chargers offense overpowered the Vikings' stingy defense in the second half of the game.
Here are five things we learned from the Chargers' win over the Vikings.
The passing game for the San Diego Chargers was inconsistent for the better part of the game, but surprisingly, the Chargers' run game proved to be the team's best offensive aspect.
Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews didn't put up amazing numbers in terms of carries—they split 24 touches evenly and neither managed an average of four yards per hold.
However, in the passing game, both Tolbert and Mathews excelled, especially on screens and when Philip Rivers dumped passes off to either of them.
Mathews was extremely elusive and got into the open field often, where he accelerated decently and got the extra five or 10 yards. Mike Tolbert played the opposite and trucked players when he got into the open field, bouncing off defenders for similar yardage. Both backs caught passes for a combined 130 yards off of 12 receptions.
Having a dynamic, versatile backfield that you can dump off to and allow to produce when you're in trouble? That's scary.
It's easy to rip on Donovan McNabb. He only threw for 39 yards despite playing the entire game. Your average box score tells you this.
But what it doesn't tell you, dear reader, is that McNabb didn't lose the game for the Vikings. He wasn't reluctant to throw it down field. Instead, it was the Chargers' secondary that stopped McNabb for forcing any passes to his deep men, making him check down every time he dropped back.
And when he did drop back to check down, the Chargers' defensive front had ripped through a notoriously weak Minnesota offensive line. That also explains why Adrian Peterson had nothing going for him.
People will look at this loss and blame it on McNabb and then plead that he retire after looking at his stat sheet. Sadly, that's not the way to go.
The San Diego Chargers defense proved that they belong among the league's finest.
Why? Because though they let up 17 points in the first half, they woke up and shut out an Adrian Peterson-led offense and didn't let AP get to 100 yards rushing on the day. Sure, Peterson averaged six yards per carry according to your favorite box score, but he was constantly shifting and moving between whatever holes he could find to only consistently grab a yard or two. The rest of his yards came from a pair of long runs that didn't occur late in the game.
The Chargers defended the deep ball well—McNabb never threw deep to any of his wideouts—and constantly collapsed McNabb's pocket. When Peterson ran, he ran into the wall of Takeo Spikes and the beefy, three down lineman the Chargers had on defense.
Overall, the Chargers defense took away all of the Vikings' options and that led to the second-half shut-out.
The San Diego Chargers' special teams was putrid all of last season; essentially, minor mistakes like not being able to tackle correctly on special teams can lead to hugely negative results, such as missing the playoffs.
Though this game saw a kickoff return for a touchdown as the contest's very first play, the special teams never became anything close to a problem afterwards.
No, the Chargers' special teams personnel managed to wrap up carriers fairly quickly, and when they didn't, the returner was only able to elude themselves towards the sidelines and that's about it.
This special teams mess shouldn't be a problem anymore.
The Minnesota Vikings were constantly making a mess of things in the Chargers' back field, and for good reason. Philip Rivers would have torched the secondary regardless of how good it was.
Instead, the Vikings' linebackers and defensive lineman—namely Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson—were locked on to the ball-carrier and forced Rivers to dump off to running backs who were—up to this point—unproven.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, the tandem of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews turned out to be very good.
The Vikings controlled the run game well, though. Tolbert and Mathews found success off of screens and last-ditch passes where Mathews used his elusiveness and Tolbert used his run power. Regardless, the Vikings forced the Chargers to adjust.