Chargers show rare early-season resiliency

September, 11, 2011
9/11/11
10:51
PM ET
Mike TolbertDonald Miralle/Getty ImagesSan Diego running back Mike Tolbert scored a clutch late touchdown for the Chargers in their win over the Vikings.
SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers lumbered off the field after a first half that couldn’t have gone any worse.

The Chargers -- who trailed the Minnesota Vikings 17-7 -- were sent the locker room by a hearty round of boos. The message from the San Diego crowd, which has understandably grown impatient after seeing this talented team stumble early year after year, was clearly: Please, not again.

The Chargers, though, didn’t let the fans’ restlessness or the seriousness of the situation get them down. In fact, safety Eric Weddle had his own message for anyone who might be concerned.

“We are not the 2010 San Diego Chargers,” Weddle said of the team that led the NFL in total offense and total defense but failed to make the playoffs. “It may not have looked too good, but we are not going to lose the game in one play or in one half. It is not going to happen. We did not waver. It came along. We knew it would.”

Showing the resiliency and timeliness of a championship team, the Chargers overcame their first-half troubles and took over in the second half, beating the Vikings 24-17.

While some may not be impressed that it took a furious rally to beat the Vikings at home, this win is significant because of how the Chargers responded to a dire situation. After spending a large chunk of training camp dedicated to fixing the NFL’s worst special teams, San Diego watched Percy Harvin take the opening kickoff 103 yards for a score. To add further anguish, Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding was lost for the game on the play, making punter Mike Scifres the team’s place-kicker. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Kaeding may have a torn ACL.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looked uncomfortable and rusty in the first half as he couldn’t quite make the play that counted most. The Chargers went deep into Minnesota territory twice in the first half and netted no points.

And there was the case of the San Diego defense, which was eaten up by Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson in the first half.

It all added up to a tension-filled halftime by the sea. Was it really going to happen again? Were special teams, key injuries and poor run defense going to undo the Chargers again? Were they going to fall on their face early under Norv Turner again?

“I understand everyone wondering it,” Weddle said. “Here we were in the moment and the same things were happening again … But we were just not ready to go down.”

So perhaps this year will be different. The Chargers are always a tough date late in the season. But there’s no denying it takes Turner’s players a while to ramp it up. Since Turner took over in 2007, the Chargers are 6-8 in September and 7-8 in October. But they are 28-7 in the final two months of the season.

Having to go to New England in Week 2 after a loss to Minnesota would have seriously hampered this team’s demeanor. Now, the Chargers can head east, not worrying about the late-summer blues.

There’s so much to celebrate about this win in San Diego.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Denis PoroyQuarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers rebounded after a rocky start to down Minnesota on Sunday.
There’s the brilliance of Rivers. There’s the timely play by the defense. There’s the heroics of Scifres. There’s the emergence of running back Ryan Mathews.

But it all starts with Rivers.

For anyone who wants to know why Rivers is considered an elite quarterback despite the fact he doesn’t own a Super Bowl ring, please check the final score of the game. On second down and 10 from the Minnesota 19 late in the fourth quarter, Rivers hit running back Mike Tolbert for a touchdown.

It was much more than a medium-yardage scoring play. Rivers, not famous for his mobility, evaded a Vikings’ rush and showed great patience, waiting for Tolbert to get open. He did, Rivers instantly hit him and Tolbert, who scored all three of the Chargers’ touchdowns, rolled into the end zone.

“That was classic Philip,” Weddle said. ‘He’ll wait all day for a play to happen. That’s why our goal is to get the ball back in his hands so he can make plays like that.”

Rivers (who threw for 335 yards on 33-of-48 passing) and his offensive mates received plenty of help. The Vikings had 161 yards of offense in the first half. They finished the game with 187 yards. Peterson had 74 yards on the ground in the first half. He finished with 98 yards on 16 carries.

Many San Diego defenders said they were fired up during the week when Peterson -- who ran for an NFL record 296 yards against the Chargers in 2007 -- said on a radio show that he planned to run for 200 yards and get a win in Week 1. New Chargers inside linebacker Takeo Spikes was fuming after the game about it. Several Chargers said the coaching staff played a clip of Peterson saying it.

"It was a direct slap in the face,” said Spikes, who had a terrific debut in San Diego with a game-high 11 tackles. “You don't come in our house saying that hey I'm going to get over 200 yards and guarantee a W. That is a disrespect to us. We put in a lot of time in this game; respect every guy in this locker room as a player. I find it hard to believe and you are going to say all that and your success is predicated off the guys up front and with us knowing that. I know our guys up front -- those dogs hunt. … It was personal, absolutely personal.”

Despite the motivation provided by Peterson, the Chargers wouldn’t have won the game if it weren’t for Scifres. The punter, who signed a contract extension during the week, took over for Kaeding and he was perfect, including tying the score with a 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. It was the first field goal of his NFL career.

An added bonus in all this fun for San Diego was the hard running displayed by 2010 No. 1 pick Ryan Mathews. He had 45 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving. He seems like a much improved player from last year.

It’s all another reminder, as Weddle said, that these are not the 2010 San Diego Chargers.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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