San Diego Chargers: 2011 Season Opener a Tale of Two Halves

Michael CallahamContributor IISeptember 12, 2011

Tolbert carries the Chargers to a win over Minnesota
Tolbert carries the Chargers to a win over MinnesotaJeff Gross/Getty Images

After a horrific first half in which the situation seemed to be unraveling in ways that were all too familiar to Chargers fans, San Diego's offense woke up in the second half, scoring 17 unanswered points and allowing the Chargers to come out of Week 1 with the win. At least initially, Chargers fans watched in utter disbelief as Percy Harvin ran the opening kickoff back 103 yards for the score. Adding insult to injury was the fact that kicker Nate Kaeding was injured on the play. Kaeding left the game on a cart and would not return.

Minnesota's defense came out fired up, managing to get into Phillip Rivers' head early, and dominating the Chargers offense through the majority the first half. At least early on, the Vikings had done an exceptional job of limiting Rivers' options downfield. The clearly frustrated quarterback was forced to take the short, dump-off passes underneath to the outlet receiver no less than 12 times for 130 yards.

One of the lone bright spots of the entire first half for San Diego came when linebacker Shaun Phillips deflected a Donovan McNabb pass to himself, coming down with the ball for the pick inside the Vikings 5-yard line. Tolbert took it to the house two plays later, reducing the Vikings lead to three.

Later in the second quarter, the Vikings capped of a solid if not spectacular first half with a three-play, 50-yard touchdown drive, built on a 46-yard running play by RB Adrian Peterson, improving Minnesota's lead to 17-7. Little did anyone know at the time, though, that the three-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to receiver Michael Jenkins would turn out to be the last time the Vikings offense would even sniff the end zone.

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 11:   Runningback Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers hurdles over a tackle against the Minnesota Vikings during their season-opening game on September 11, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San DIego, California. (Photo by Donal
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Aside from the break down on defense that allowed Peterson to break the 46-yard run that led to Minnesota's final touchdown, the Chargers defense was nearly perfect. After giving up almost 300 yards to Peterson during the team's last meeting, Greg Manusky's defense managed to hold Peterson under 100 yards rushing on the afternoon. Donovan McNabb would finish the day an abysmal 7 of 15 for just 39 yards through the air.

But the Chargers squad that hit the field in the second half looked nothing like their hapless, bungling first half doppelgangers. As well, San Diego's defense came out even stronger in the second half, completely dominating the Vikings at the line of scrimmage, shutting down all running lanes for Peterson.

Meanwhile, San Diego's offense found its groove in the third quarter, largely due to the inspired play of running back Mike Tolbert. The beating that the hard-nosed Tolbert had been delivering to the Vikings defense began to show by the midway point of the third quarter, opening up both running and passing lanes for the Chargers. Tolbert would finish the day with three touchdowns for 93 all-purpose yards.

Philip Rivers was flawless in the third and fourth quarters. His masterful use of the hard-count late in the game sealed the deal for San Diego by drawing the Vikings defensive line off-sides on multiple occasions.

Although the Chargers did give the fans plenty to be concerned about to open up the 2011 regular season, in the end the match-up became very much a tale of two halves. And, as much of a complete debacle as the first half was for San Diego, before it was all over, the Chargers gave their fans plenty to be excited about in 2011.