NFL Nation: Nate Kaeding

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to show they’re serious about having competition at just about every position.

The latest example of that came Tuesday. The Bucs have signed veteran kicker Nate Kaeding, according to the Tampa Tribune’s Roy Cummings.

Kaeding spent two games last season with the Miami Dolphins. Prior to that, he had been with the San Diego Chargers since 2004.

Tampa Bay already has one of the best young kickers in the NFL in Connor Barth and it’s likely he’ll keep the job. But a little competition can’t hurt. The Bucs followed the same theory when they signed punter Chas Henry to compete with Michael Koenen and they’re taking a similar approach at other positions.
Rookie kickers have made 86.7 percent of field goal attempts over the past five seasons. Veteran kickers have made 83 percent over the same period.

That is something to keep in mind when wondering what veteran kicker the San Francisco 49ers might pursue after releasing David Akers this week.

While the 49ers likely will sign a veteran, they should consider using one of their league-high 12 draft choices -- a total expected to rise when the NFL distributes compensatory selections -- for the best rookie kicker they can find.

Those percentages for rookies versus veterans say as much.

Of course, field goal percentages aren't everything because all attempts aren't created equal, even when from the same distance. It's also possible an aversion to trusting rookie kickers has removed from the pool all but the exceptional ones, distorting comparisons to a broader field of veteran kickers.

But that 86.7 percent success rate should get the 49ers' attention as they seek low-cost alternatives to an acclaimed veteran such as Akers, whose 69 percent success rate ranked 34th out of 36 qualifying kickers last season.

Minnesota's Blair Walsh (92.1 percent), Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90.9) and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein (74.2) combined to make 86.3 percent as the only rookies to attempt field goals last season.

Filtering for venue and distance, I noticed that rookies made 29 of 42 (69 percent) field goal tries since 2008 when kicking outdoors on natural grass from longer than 40 yards. Veterans made 621 of 913 (68 percent).

The results cited here are far from conclusive, which is the point. A rookie kicker might not be a bad option for the 49ers.

Phil Dawson, Rob Bironas, Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, Nick Folk, Josh Brown, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham, Olindo Mare and Nick Novak are among the veterans without contracts for 2013. Check out our Free Agent Tracker Insider for ranks of kickers Insider and all free agents.

Dolphins sign kicker Nate Kaeding

December, 21, 2012
The Miami Dolphins signed veteran kicker Nate Kaeding, the team announced Friday. Incumbent kicker Dan Carpenter was hampered by a groin injury and placed on injured reserve.

Keading is a former two-time Pro Bowl selection with the San Diego Chargers. He will replace Carpenter for the rest of the season.

Miami has been fortunate with injuries all season, but the injury bug is hurting the team in December. In addition to Carpenter, Miami could be without starting wide receivers Davone Bess and/or Brian Hartline, who are dealing with back injuries.

The Dolphins will host the Buffalo Bills Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

Chargers hurting at receiver

October, 31, 2012
The San Diego Chargers' offense is facing another obstacle as it tries to get out of a slump.

Receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring) is doubtful and fellow receiver Robert Meachem (hamstring) is questionable to face visiting Kansas City on Thursday night. This isn’t going to help an offense that has not scored a touchdown in the past six quarters.

Newly signed receivers Danario Alexander and Seyi Ajirotutu both should get a chance to see some action against the Chiefs.

For Kansas City, defensive end Glenn Dorsey (calf) and cornerback Stanford Routt (hamstring) are both questionable to play. They were both limited in practice Wednesday.

In other AFC West news:

Former San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding offers an interesting perspective on the team in a radio interview.
San Diego left tackle Jared Gaither practiced fully Friday after being limited all week. He is questionable to play Sunday at Kansas City. Gaither has been out since late July with a back injury.

Gaither told U-T San Diego he is ready to play. But he will be a game-time decision. Thursday, San Diego coach Norv Turner said it would be very difficult for Gaither to play. I think it will come down to if the Chargers feel like Gather can quickly shake off the rust.

San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding suffered a groin injury and was listed as questionable on Friday.

In other AFC West injury news:

Even though he practiced on a limited basis for the first time since breaking his forearm in mid-August, Denver standout guard Chris Kuper is listed as doubtful to play Sunday against Oakland. I’d think Kuper has a good chance to play next week at New England.

Denver running back Willis McGahee is probable with a rib injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday. Linebacker Nate Irving (concussion) is doubtful, and safely Quentin Carter (knee) is out.

For Oakland, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) is doubtful after not practicing all week. Kicker Sebastian Janikowski (groin) is probable after being limited all week. Running back Darren McFadden practiced fully Friday for the first time this week and is probable with a shoulder injury. Tight end Brandon Myers (concussion) has been limited all week, and tight end Richard Gordon practiced fully Friday after not practicing earlier this week with a hamstring injury. They are both listed as questionable.
Click here for the complete list of San Diego Chargers' roster moves.

Most significant move: The Chargers cut former starting fullback (and special-teams ace) Jacob Hester and fellow running back Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick. The Chargers will go with the likes of Ronnie Brown, Le’Ron McClain, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley early in the season if starter Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) can’t play in the first couple of games. It was a no-brainer that the team kept kicker Nate Kaeding over Nick Novak. Kaeding, who was replaced by Novak after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 last year, was better than Novak in camp and in the preseason.

Onward and upward: The Chargers cut undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee. The team was high on him, but once again, the team is going with just two quarterbacks: starter Philip Rivers and backup Charlie Whitehurst. Lee is a likely candidate for the practice squad. I can see receiver Mike Willie being put on the practice squad as well. He has potential, but he lacked consistency. I could see Baker as a practice-squad candidate as well. I’d think Hester will get looks elsewhere because of his special-teams availability. Longtime defensive tackle Jacques Cesaire could potentially get looks as the season progresses; there is always a need around the league for a veteran big man. If the Chargers get in a bind, I could see them turning the popular Cesaire, who was a locker-room favorite.

What’s next: Because of injuries, expect the Chargers to look for help at cornerback, tackle, safety and perhaps receiver and running back. Because left tackle Jared Gaither and several cornerbacks are hurt, San Diego could be on the lookout for players who could actually be active in Week 1 at Oakland. One player I fully expect San Diego to target is cornerback Drayton Florence. He’d fit right in as a nickel. Denver cut Florence on Friday. He is a former Charger and San Diego tried to sign him before he went to Denver.

Observation deck: Chargers-49ers

August, 31, 2012

A look at the Chargers’ 35-3 road loss Thursday night:

After being held out last week because of injuries on his offensive line, the Chargers gave quarterback Philip Rivers some late-preseason work. The interception bug hit him again.

Rivers’ night ended with poor red-zone decisions on a ball that was intercepted. Rivers threw four interceptions this summer after being picked off 20 times last season. Thursday’s interception was just a pass Rivers should not have thrown.

It is a worry? Kind of, yes.

Look, preseason mistakes are just that, and Rivers is a fine player. He has thrown the ball well in the preseason. He completed 8 of 10 passes Thursday and he was 24-of-30 this preseason (yes, only two passes Rivers threw in the preseason were not caught). But he has to get out of this interception rut when the season starts.

Rookie defensive lineman Kendall Reyes looked good once again. I expect him to make an instant impact.

Nose tackle Cam Thomas looked good and should play a lot as well.

Watch for the Chargers to look for cornerback help on the waiver wire. They are banged up and their reserves were not good Thursday. The 49ers passed all over the Chargers.

Last year, while with the Chargers, quarterback Scott Tolzien performed well against the 49ers. So well, in fact, the 49ers claimed him when the Chargers cut him. Thursday night, Tolzein might have lost his roster spot when Josh Johnson had a great game for the 49ers. Would the Chargers be tempted to sign Tolzien either as a replacement for Jarrett Lee or as a practice-squader regardless if Lee is kept on the 53-man roster?

Linebacker Bront Bird finished strong and has a chance to make the team when the 53-man roster is finalized Friday.

Unless there is a shocking change of heart, kicker Nate Kaeding makes the team and Nick Novak gets cut.

A look at the Chargers’ 21-13 home win Thursday night:

As Philip Rivers’ said in a sideline interview with ESPN, the Chargers’ offense was good and bad. The good was a 23-yard dart Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates with for a touchdown. Gates is healthy for the first time since 2007 and he has been outstanding in training camp. That was a good sign.

However, Rivers made a mistake later when Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams jumped in front of a pass intended for new San Diego receiver Robert Meachem deep in Green Bay territory. It was probably just a matter of timing for Rivers and Meachem. However, Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season and he must improve in that area.
  • The San Diego first-team defense looked strong, which is a great sign. It did allow Green Bay to covert on third down on its first two attempts. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense last year. But overall, San Diego’s first unit looked terrific and aggressive on defense. Overall, the Chargers’ first-team offense and defenses looked further along than the Packers' did.
  • First-round pick Melvin Ingram played extensively. He looked fabulous. If San Diego wasn’t shaking with delight over the prospect of having Ingram before Thursday, it should be now. Boy, is he explosive. He forced Aaron Rodgers into throwing an interception and he was all over the place.
  • Undrafted free-agent quarterback Jarrett Lee looked really good for San Diego and outplayed Green Bay backup Graham Harrell much of the night. He made some big league throws. I’d be shocked if Lee doesn’t make the 53-man roster as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rivers and Charlie Whitehurst, who is still recovering from a knee injury.
  • Reserve receiver Vincent Brown worked hard for the final 7 yards of a 27-yard touchdown pass from Lee, and Brown had a good night overall. I think he will be a key contributor in the season.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews hurt his shoulder and was taken out. There is no word on the status. It is not a surprise that he was taken out after the injury even if it was minor. Update: the San Diego Union-Tribune reports Mathews suffered a broken clavicle. He will be out four to six weeks. I will have more this later.
  • Kicker Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, further making Nate Kaeding the favorite to win the kicking competition. Novak replaced Kaeding last season when Kaeding tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of the season.
  • Receiver/returner Michael Spurlock is making a big push to make the 53-man roster. He had two catches for 52 yards.
  • Undrafted free-agent left tackle Mike Harris started for the injured Jared Gaither. Harris had a nice night, which is commendable for an undrafted rookie who started his first preseason game at a premium position. Harris should easily make the team.
  • It was a cool scene to see some San Diego players greet replacement official Shannon Eastin prior to the game. She is the first woman to officiate an NFL game.
SAN DIEGO -- With the outside perception of the San Diego Chargers taking a major tumble, the team, which for so long was built from the inside, changed philosophy in 2012 in a last attempt to keep that proverbial Super Bowl window from slamming shut and causing major upheaval in the organization.

After two playoff-less seasons and a reprieve from ownership, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith made an uncharacteristically heavy play in free agency. Taking advantage of one of the deepest classes in history, the Chargers nabbed more than a dozen free agents to infuse new life into a roster that was still talented but no longer arguably the stoutest in the NFL.

“I love what they have done around here,” said safety Eric Weddle, one of the Chargers' homegrown mainstays. “We hit the lowest of the lows the past two years by not making the playoffs. Getting new blood in here has helped.”

Among the veterans San Diego brought in were running backs Le'Ron McClain and Ronnie Brown, receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

“The thing about the new guys is they all love football,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “They love it. We need guys like that here. … It gives us a new start. Those guys won’t worry about the past. They weren’t here for the slow starts or the six-game losing streak last year. It’s all a new start.”

If this cleansing of the roster doesn’t work, the next restructuring will likely occur up top with the firing of coach Norv Turner and possibly Smith. Yet, in a season of new beginnings, spirits are high.

“I think we can be special,” Weddle said. “There’s still a lot of talent here, with a bunch of new talent. … People may not be expecting much from us this year because we haven’t done anything, so that’s fair. But it’s kind of nice to be under the radar for once.”


[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe Chargers aim to lean even more heavily on running back Ryan Mathews this season.
1. Ryan Mathews' workload: Outside of Rivers, there is likely not a more important player in this camp than Mathews. The Chargers all know if Mathews flourishes in his third NFL season, the team will have a strong chance to be successful. Mathews, the No. 12 overall pick in 2010, had a solid second season as he ran for 1,091 yards and averaged a terrific 4.9 yards per carry. This year, the Chargers want to see Mathews become consistent and stay healthy. He will likely be given the chance to to carry the ball 25 times a game, catch several balls out of the backfield and be a factor on third down and in short yardage. This camp is designed to get him prepared for a heavy workload. From what I saw and heard, it seems like Mathews might be up to the task.

“He’s working hard,” Rivers said. “Ryan knows what is expected of him.”

2. Sparking the defense: While the offense in San Diego needs some tweaks, the bigger fixes are necessary on defense, where former linebackers coach John Pagano is in charge of fixing a unit that fell apart last season. He replaces Greg Manusky, who was fired after one season on the job. The biggest issue -- it is a major point of emphasis in camp -- is getting off the field on third down. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense in 2011. It gave up a first down on 49.2 percent of all third downs -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, the worst percentage in the NFL since the 1995 Cleveland Browns. The Chargers have added several pieces to the defense and it has a chance to be much more active -- particularly on passing downs, when No. 1 pick Melvin Ingram will be given a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher.

3. Protect the quarterback: The San Diego offensive line was in shambles for much of last season, and it was a big reason why Rivers struggled for the first 10 games. Mainly due to poor health, San Diego used 13 offensive linemen last season -- literally taking players off the street at one point in November. With Jared Gaither, claimed off waivers from Kansas City, solidifying the left tackle spot, the unit improved dramatically late in the season. Gaither was re-signed and is being counted on to protect Rivers’ blind side. The steady Tyronne Green takes over for the departed Kris Dielman. Green has fared well when he's had to play. If this unit remains in good health, it should protect Rivers well. If not, trouble could persist. So far, the unit looks good in camp.


The passing game looks to be top-notch. After a sloppy start to last season, Rivers finished 2011 strong. He has looked good in camp, and has an interesting group of receivers. Yes, standout Vincent Jackson is gone, but the Chargers have an ensemble group that includes Malcom Floyd, free-agent signees Meachem (New Orleans) and Royal (Denver) and second-year player Vincent Brown. Together, this group should offer Rivers plenty of help.

“We like what we have there,” Turner said. “We like all the pieces. We think we can get some things done in the passing game.”

If the Rivers-led passing attack is back at an elite level, the Chargers will be a threat to win every game. When Rivers is on, San Diego has a chance to score every time the offense hits the field.


The Chargers must prove they are totally past their doldrums. The team feels good about itself, but it does every summer. We will not know if San Diego is out of its funk until it’s out.

Yes, the depth looks good, but will it be enough if injuries pile up for a fourth consecutive year? Yes, cutting down on turnovers is a point of emphasis in camp, but once the season starts, will the hard work pay off or will the killer interceptions and fumbles continue?

It has gotten to the point where we can’t trust this team until it shows it is has indeed rebounded.


    [+] EnlargeEddie Royal
    AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziReceiver Eddie Royal, an offseason pickup, appears to have clicked with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
  • Tight end Antonio Gates is turning heads on a daily basis. After dealing with foot-related injuries for four years, Gates is finally completely healthy. He’s slimmed down and he is making a lot of plays. If his health remains, the 32-year-old should make a huge impact.
  • Denver might have lost interest in Royal, but there is a place for him San Diego. Expect Royal to get a lot of work. He has impressed the coaching staff this summer and I expect him to be as favorite a target for Rivers during the season as he has been this summer.
  • The Chargers love what they see in Johnson. He is tough, smart and excellent against the run. They think he can bump the defense up a notch.
  • Linebacker Donald Butler looks good after a strong 2011 season, which was essentially his rookie season because he was injured in 2010. He is just another fascinating young defensive piece on this team.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee looks like a keeper. He got extra work because of a knee injury to Charlie Whitehurst. I could see Lee making this roster. The Chargers were burned last year when they tried to sneak undrafted rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien onto the practice squad; he was claimed by San Francisco. If Lee continues to impress, I think the Chargers will find room for him on the 53-man roster. They need to develop a young quarterback at some point and Lee might be it.

  • The Nate Kaeding-Nick Novak battle at kicker will go down to the wire. If Kaeding stays healthy and kicks well in the preseason, he should win the job.
  • The Chargers love the skill level of Meachem. Perhaps he was lost in the shuffle of the dynamic offensive weaponry in New Orleans. He’ll get his shot in San Diego.
  • The Chargers are pumped about McClain, a free-agent pickup from Kansas City. He will play a lot and should be in the mix for some carries. They like the veteran stability he brings to the offense.
  • Center David Molk, a seventh-round pick, is getting some second-team reps. He may have a future.
  • The Chargers are very happy with pre-camp signings Franklin and running back/special-teamer Jackie Battle. Though they both signed late, I see them both being contributors.
  • Keep an eye on ex-Chief Demorrio Williams. The linebacker has been a camp stud, boasting terrific speed. The Chargers like him in coverage.
  • The Chargers will keep their eyes open for help at certain positions, including cornerback and offensive line, as the summer progresses.
  • Third-round pick Brandon Taylor, a safety, might not make an instant impact, but Taylor has impressed and will get some valuable time behind veteran pickup Atari Bigby, who himself has been outstanding this summer.

  • Brown has been getting looks as the third-down back and will be an occasional Wildcat threat.
  • Running back Curtis Brinkley flashed talent at times last season, but because of the logjam at running back, he is a long shot to make the team.

  • Rookie tight end Ladarius Green has nice receiving skills. I can see him making an impact behind Gates and Dante Rosario (a very nice backup). Green, a fourth-round pick, needs to learn to block at an NFL level, but he has terrific hands and natural size.
  • Undrafted rookie tackle Mike Harris has taken advantage of an early camp injury to Gaither, getting some reps with the first team. The UCLA product has a chance to make the team. Rivers has joked that Harris has gotten more first-team reps than any undrafted rookie tackle in the history of the NFL.
SAN DIEGO -- Nate Kaeding has been waiting for this preseason for 11 months.

When you blow out your ACL on the opening kickoff of the season, you have to look forward to something. After a physically and mentally grueling rehabilitation period, Kaeding is finally back to being able to be an NFL kicker again.

“There has been a lot of emotional times in the past 11 months” Kaeding said. “But I’ve gotten through it and I’m ready to go show everyone that I am back.”

After sitting out all but one play last season, the long-time San Diego kicker is now battling his 2011 replacement, Nick Novak, in one of the more interesting camp battles in San Diego. While Novak did a nice job in Kaeding’s absence, I think Kaeding probably has the edge to win the job if he can show his health in the next month.

Kaeding said he is not overworking his leg, but he has shown himself he can do everything and that he has kicked field goals up to the 55-60 range. However, his kicking length is not the important part of Kaeding’s rehabilitation.

“It’s getting into that regular rhythm,” Kaeding said. “That’s what I’m working on and I feel good about it”

Chargers Camp Watch

July, 25, 2012
NFC Camp Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Dates

Three thoughts as training camps open around the NFL:

One thing I'm certain of: The San Diego Chargers will be under the radar and they will love it. The nation has become tired of the Chargers. For years, San Diego has been a preseason darling. It has been a perennial popular early Super Bowl pick but has fallen short of the playoffs the past two seasons.

As a result, not much attention is being paid to the team anymore. I expect this team to welcome the lack of attention and use it as a motivational tool. The Chargers, who must win this season to save the job of coach Norv Turner, know the only way they will become relevant again is if they win. I expect this to be a focused group and one that will relish the idea of being the chaser and not the team being chased.

One thing that might happen: We may see how talented first-round pick Melvin Ingram is, and how important he will be to the San Diego defense. The Chargers received a gift when Ingram fell to the No. 18 spot in the draft. Many NFL scouts think he was the value of the draft.

The Chargers expect to use Ingram in several roles in training camp and in the preseason. He will likely be a pass-rushing linebacker. But he can also play in the defensive line. Because he has a lot to learn and grasp, Ingram may look lost at times, but it will pay off soon in the form of dynamic defensive play, which the Chargers desperately need.

One thing we won't see: The Chargers' kicking competition will likely not be settled in training camp. I think it will continue through the preseason.

Both Nate Kaeding and Nick Novak will be given a chance to win the job. Novak had a nice season in 2011 after Kaeding, a longtime standout, suffered a torn ACL in Week 1. Kickers win their jobs because of their performances in games, so preseason performances will likely go a long way in determining this battle.
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:


Safety: Quinton Carter versus Rahim Moore

The two 2011 draft picks will fight it out to play along with free-agent pickup Mike Adams. Carter and Moore rotated in the offseason. If draft status is an indication, Moore will have the inside edge. He was a second-round pick and Carter was a fourth-rounder.

However, if their short NFL careers are a factor, Carter will have the edge. He was better than Moore as a rookie. Still, the team likes Moore’s long-term potential. His biggest issue appears to be confidence. He made some mistakes and he didn’t recover from them last year. He has vowed to work on his mental game. No matter who wins the starting job, I expect both players to see the field often.


Backup quarterback: Brady Quinn versus Ricky Stanzi

This is one of the more intriguing battles in Kansas City. Quinn was signed to be the backup to Matt Cassel because of his experience. He played for Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. It appeared that Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011, was earmarked for another year as the third-stringer.

However, Stanzi was impressive during the offseason and he and Quinn rotated as Cassel’s backup during organized team activities. It seems Quinn still has the edge, but Stanzi will get a fair shake. If he shows he has big potential in camp and in the preseason and Quinn is below average, I can see Stanzi overtaking Quinn.


Right tackle: Khalif Barnes versus Joe Barksdale

There are a few battles to watch in Oakland (including at tight end and at a cornerback spot), but this is a position to keep an eye on. Oakland’s offensive line is improving, but this is the weak area. Barnes has had his struggles, and some were surprised when he was re-signed. Oakland paid him enough to make it appear he will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Barksdale is a player the previous regime traded up to take in the draft last year. He has to show the new staff he can play in the zone-blocking scheme, which Barnes has some experience in. I think Barksdale will eventually take this job, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnes begins the season as the starter.


Kicker: Nate Kaeding versus Nick Novak

The Chargers decided early in the offseason they would let Kaeding and Novak engage in a good, old-fashioned kicking battle in training camp and the preseason. It should be fascinating to watch. These are two good kickers. I don’t think there is a favorite.

You’d think Kaeding would be the favorite because of his pedigree. However, after Kaeding went down for the season in Week 1 with a knee injury, Novak was terrific. If Kaeding can show he is fully healthy and he looks good, he could retake the job. But Novak will not give in easily. This battle should go the distance.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Don’t expect a quick resolution to the San Diego Chargers' kicking competition in 2012.

Nate Kaeding and Nick Novak are under contract, and I believe we will see them compete during training camp and the preseason. If both remain healthy, we might not know who he kicker will be until rosters are finalized in early September.

San Diego general manager A.J. Smith was unwilling to speculate about what the team would do at kicker, and didn’t indicate he’d be in any hurry to make a decision.

Why should he?

He has two quality kickers under contract. What if a player is hurt the offseason or in camp? If Smith makes a decision now and the player he keeps gets hurt, the other kicker likely will not be available. This way, the Chargers can control the situation and choose the best kicker after the preseason.

Kaeding suffered a torn ACL in Week 1. Novak was signed and performed well for the rest of the season. Because of Kaeding’s success prior to the 2011 season and Novak’s performance last season, I think both players deserve the chance to win the job.
The San Diego Chargers got the news they expected about kicker Nate Kaeding since Sunday night.

The reliable placekicker is out for the year after he suffered a torn ACL on the opening play of the 2011 season, a kickoff that Minnesota’s Percy Harvin took back 103 yards for a touchdown in an eventual 24-17 San Diego win.

There were strong indications Sunday that Kaeding -- who was ably replaced by punter Mike Scifres -- would be out for the year. The Chargers will work out kickers Tuesday and make a quick decision.

San Diego will miss Kaeding. He is a consummate pro and he is very accurate. His injury has to be pegged on the Chargers’ special teams, which ruined last season.

While the unit looked good in the preseason and it improved during Sunday’s game, there is no way Kaeding should have to try to make a tackle. Now, he’s out for the season and it will be up to his replacement to keep up his end of the unit.

The Chargers did get better news on defensive end Luis Castillo. He has a broken leg, but he could be back later in the season. The San Diego Union Tribune reports the team will likely bring back Ogemdi Nwagbuo to take Castillo’s place. Nwagbuo is a solid player who was one of the team’s toughest cuts.

The team also got good news on the knee injury suffered by running back Mike Tolbert, who scored all three of San Diego’s touchdowns Sunday. Tolbert is expected to be fine.
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.