By Tom Krasovic
SAN DIEGO — The Chargers shook off an ugly first half Sunday and opened the season with a 24-17 victory over the Vikings.
Turning boos into cheers, the Chargers shut out the Vikings in the second half and unleashed running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert while erasing a 17-7 halftimes deficit.
Tolbert scored three touchdowns, two on passes from quarterback Philip Rivers.
Filling in for injured kicker Nate Kaeding, Chargers punter Mike Scifres made a 40-yard field goal that tied the score 17-17 and made all three points after touchdowns.
The Vikings won the coin toss and chose to receive the opening kickoff.
Historically bad at covering kicks last year, the Chargers turned to their new special teams coach and several newcomers on coverage teams. But Percy Harvin ripped off a 103-yard return to put the Vikings ahead, and the Chargers lost Kaeding to an injured left knee on the play.
Linebacker Shaun Phillips quickly rallied the Chargers by deflecting and intercepting Donovan McNabb’s first pass as a Viking, putting San Diego on Minnesota’s 6-yard line. Three plays later, the Chargers tied it, 7-7, on a three-yard pass to Tolbert, uncovered in the end zone.
The Vikings won the rest of the half, going into the locker room with a
Minnesota’s offense had two scoring drives. Three conversions on third down — two coming on passes by McNabb — fueled a 77-yard march that led to Ryan Longwell’s 33-yard field goal. Adrian Peterson’s 46-yard run that left Chargers safeties Eric Weddle and Bob Sanders on the ground set up a three-yard touchdown pass, McNabb to receiver Michael Jenkins early in the second quarter.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw too high several times in the first half. With the Vikings ahead 17-7, he over threw 6-foot-5 speedster Vincent Jackson in the end zone and later missed 6-5 receiver Malcom Floyd, who was open 15 yards downfield.
The Chargers didn’t score in the second quarter despite twice going past the Vikings’ 26. With Kaeding unavailable, the Chargers opted against having Scifres try a 42-yard field goal; instead, Rivers threw incomplete on fourth-and-20.
Vikings pass-rusher Brian Robison stopped the Chargers after they reached the 17 with 10 seconds left in the half. He hit Rivers on a first-down pass try, and Antonio Winfield intercepted the wobbler.
Mathews and Tolbert gained all of the yards — including 37 by Mathews off a short pass — in a 69-yard drive to open the third quarter. Tolbert’s seven-yard scoring run capped it.
Tying the score for the second time was Scifres. His 40-yarder, the first field goal of his career, made it 17-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Rivers made his best play of the game to give the Chargers their first lead. Buying time for Tolbert, who wasn’t his first option, the quarterback scrambled to his left and drew a Vikings pass defender to him. Rivers then threw to Tolbert near the sideline, and the back dived into the end zone ahead of safety Jamarca Sanford.
McNabb wasn’t able to match Rivers on the next series. Unable to find a receiver, he was tackled at the ankles by linebacker Antwan Barnes for a third-down sack.
Game notes: Rivers did not throw a pass to a receiver until hitting Floyd with nine minutes left in the second quarter. He targeted Antonio Gates on
11 passes in the first half, and Gates caught six for 46 yards. … After rushing 16 times for 125 yards in the first half, including 74 from Peterson on nine carries, the Vikings had only 19 yards to show for seven rushes in the third quarter. … Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo left the game because of a left knee injury.