A game that started in an all too familiar fashion for the San Diego Chargers, ended in an all too familiar way for the Minnesota Vikings. The Bolts fell behind on the opening kickoff and trailed for 55 out of 60 minutes before Philip Rivers’ 19-yard pass found Mike Tolbert for the game-winning touchdown.
This game featured too much of the same old Chargers, but it also showed glimpses of the new and improved Chargers as well. Fortunately, the new Chargers poked their heads out in crunch time and found a way to win a game that the old Chargers would have surely lost.
Initially, it seemed like Minnesota would roll over San Diego. The Vikings came out and dictated play on both sides of the ball. Everyone knew the Vikings game plan was to run Adrian Peterson left, right and center—and that’s exactly what they did.
On the other side of the ball, it was common knowledge that the Chargers had a huge advantage throwing deep passes down the sidelines to their tall wide receivers. But for whatever reason, that never materialized.
The Vikings were completely successful in getting the Chargers to stay away from their strength and play to their weakness.
Vincent Jackson was targeted with only three passes all day—one of which would have been a sure touchdown had the ball not sailed over his head. The two wide receivers made five catches on the day while Mike Tolbert and Antonio Gates made 17. The short passing game was all that was working for the Bolts and it was the short yardage passing game that eventually won the game for them as well.
The stat sheet says the Chargers made nine deep pass attempts, but in reality, there were only two—one to Jackson for 21 yards and the one missed touchdown pass. The others were all about 20 yards or less in the air.
I have no idea why Coach Norv Turner didn’t try to spread the defense by having Rivers launch more deep balls, especially when the Chargers had such an advantage. The Chargers receivers were left in single coverage frequently due to a persistent Minnesota blitz.
To the Vikings credit, they were able to get consistent pressure on Rivers even when they rushed only four linemen. Still, much of the blame for the Chargers futility needs to be put squarely on the shoulders of Tuner.
Look at his first down play selection by quarter:
In the first, the Chargers chose to run on four of five first downs and in the second, they passed on 12 of 14 first downs. It was like the Chargers were giving up their first down plays for the entire first half by telegraphing their intentions.
That all changed in the second half when the Bolts finally decided to mixed it up a bit. In the third quarter, they made five runs and four passes on first down. In the final quarter, they ran six times and passed four times on first down, which includes three first downs when they had the lead and were trying to run the clock out.
Obviously, mixing up their first down play selection had a huge effect as they turned a 7-17 deficit into a 24-17 victory. While I do blame Turner for repetitious play-calling in the first half, I must commend him on mixing it up in the second.
Another key factor in this game was Donovan McNabb’s ability to scramble and Rivers inability to do the same. If there is a knock against the Chargers All-Pro quarterback, it’s that he can’t pick up yards on broken plays even if his life depended on it.
While he may be able to move around a bit in the pocket to get that extra second needed for a play to develop—as he did on the game-winning pass to Tolbert—he will rarely, if ever, get you a first down by hoofing it to the marker.
That is a McNabb staple.
For much of the game, it seemed that McNabb’s ability to turn a broken play into a first down would spell disaster for the Chargers. The two quarterbacks each made three runs—McNabb gained 32 yards, while Rivers lost three.
In the end, neither he nor Peterson’s rushing ability was enough to fend off the Chargers. McNabb could do nothing against an extremely stingy San Diego pass defense that gave up only 28 yards the entire game.
That is a remarkable stat and makes it easier to forgive the 159 yards they gave up on the ground. The total rushing yards wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that Minnesota's running backs averaged 6.1 yard per carry.
That is a scary number and should be the main focus of defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s practices this week.
Still the Chargers defense played uncharacteristically disciplined football the entire game. They held Peterson to less than 100 yards and, more importantly, prevented him from becoming a factor in the game. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of this game for Chargers fans was just how well the defense played overall.
Takeo Spikes had a great game for the Bolts. He led all defensive players on both sides of the ball with 11 tackles. That is really saying something considering that the Chargers defense was involved in 34 fewer plays from scrimmage than the Vikings.
Jared Allen of the Vikings may have been the best player on the field for either team. He certainly earned his paycheck with six tackles, a crucial drive-ending sack and a great interception on a pass intended for Ryan Mathews.
That’s right, a defensive end was back in pass coverage against a running back and he comes up with the ball.
Unbelievable! Rivers could only walk away, shaking his head in disbelief.
Probably the most impressive thing about this game, from the Chargers' perspective, is the way they found a way to win. This was the quintessential type of game that found the Chargers on the wrong end of the scoreline in the past.
Chargers fans must have been thinking, “Oh no! Here we go again,” for most of the game. But unlike teams of the past, they kept the game close, relied on their defense to get the ball back and then drove down the field for a game-winning touchdown.
Even more impressive was Turner's willingness to call pass plays when the Chargers had the ball with less than three minutes to play. I was sure he would call three conservative runs and then punt the ball back to the Vikings.
But, lo and behold, Turner calls two pass plays that net the Chargers two first downs on that critical last possession. Then Rivers uses the hard count to get the Viking to go offside, not once, not twice, but three separate times, allowing the Chargers to keep the ball and run out the clock.
This is the first time I have ever had the pleasure of saying this since I became a writer, but the Chargers and Norv Turner finally showed a killer instinct in putting away the Vikings when they had the chance. Great job Norv!