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Here's the early game story from tonight ...
SAN DIEGO – The Vikings slinked out of Qualcomm Stadium, kicking themselves all the way back to Winter Park for blowing a 10-point halftime lead, Percy Harvin’s season-opening 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a rare opportunity to beat a Super Bowl contender on the road.
A lot of good things happened, but the bottom line ultimately leaves the Vikings with a 24-17 loss to the Chargers, not to mention the only 0-1 record in the NFC North heading into Sunday’s home opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I thought we controlled the game,” quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “But we just let it go. It was a tale of two halves.”
McNabb will take the brunt of this week’s fan frustration. His first pass attempt as a Viking was intercepted and turned into a 6-yard touchdown drive. And he threw for 39 yards, which even he called “embarrassing” after the game.
But cheer up, Donovan. There’s plenty of blame to go around.
The defense played better than the offense and was on the field 15 minutes longer. But missed tackles, untimely penalties and slow reaction to checkdown passes to running backs helped the Chargers score 17 unanswered points in the second half.
“It just feels like we kind of gave it all away,” defensive end Jared Allen said.
The Chargers took their first and only lead of the game on a 19-yard touchdown dump pass to fullback Matt Tolbert with 5:01 left in the game. Cornerback Cedric Griffin’s 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds early didn’t help.
Three minutes later, San Diego sealed the victory when defensive tackle Fred Evans jumped offsides on third-and-2 with 2 minutes left. That was the Vikings’ fifth penalty of the fourth quarter, ninth of the game and the third time a defensive lineman jumped offsides on the Chargers’ game-sealing drive.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was under pressure and out of sync in the first half, but regrouped and completed 18 of 23 second-half passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. Many yards came after the catch because of missed tackles.
The Chargers’ first drive of the second half was helped when Antoine Winfield, one of the best tacklers in the league, missed a tackle that allowed running back Ryan Matthews to catch a pass and move 37 yards to the Vikings’ 17-yard line. Four plays later, Tolbert ran through strong safety Jamarca Sanford’s missed tackle at the 3-yard line en route to a 7-yard touchdown run that closed San Diego’s gap to three points.
“It’s frustrating because I think what hurt us is missed tackles, which you can’t have,” Winfield said. “I missed three or four out there myself. You can’t do that against the No. 1 offense in the league [from 2010].”
The Vikings’ defense had still played well enough to win when the Chargers closed to within three points. At that point, it was fading quickly because of San Diego’s lopsided edge in time of possession.
It was at that moment that the team’s brand new offense needed to chip in or the game was going to go south in a hurry. The offense responded with one first down as the team’s pass protection issues continued.
McNabb had only 2 yards passing in the second half. With better protection, he might have answered San Diego’s opening touchdown of the second half with a 63-yard touchdown to Bernard Berrian. Berrian beat his coverage and was open, but McNabb was hit as he threw a deep pass that cornerback Antoine Cason went harder for and tipped away.
The offense had its moments in the first half. Adrian Peterson ran for 74 of his 98 yards rushing in the first half. His 46-yard burst to the San Diego 3-yard line set up McNabb’s three-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins. The Vikings led 17-7 at that point.
The Vikings, however, fizzled after halftime and became predictable. Five of the six first-down calls in the second half were runs. One of them was a 2-yard loss by Joe Webb, who was inserted as a Wildcat quarterback after Peterson had back-to-back runs of 5 and 7 yards.
“It was kind of run, run, pass,” Jenkins said of the second half. “We were kind of predictable for them on third down. That made it tough because then they were able to bring some pressure and get after us.”
Considering how well the offenses in Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit played in Week 1, the Vikings have to be concerned. Especially after Harvin spotted the offense a 7-point lead by becoming the first Viking to ever return the first kickoff of a season for a touchdown.
“You want to be able to have some explosive plays in the passing game, especially when you have Adrian Peterson in the backfield,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “We’ll take a look to see what we can do to improve that. I think we can improve that. We’ll have to.”