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Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb (left, with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave) nearly ran for as many yards (32) as he passed for (39) in a 24-17 loss to the Chargers on Sunday.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

Souhan: In this prehistoric offense, passing seems to be extinct

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN
  • Star Tribune
  • September 12, 2011 - 6:10 AM

SAN DIEGO - Naming rights change so quickly these days, you had to wonder Sunday whether the Vikings were playing in Qualcomm Stadium or Jurassic Park.

Their offense looked prehistoric or, to put it another way, almost as old as Donovan McNabb.

In the second half of his debut, McNabb threw for fewer yards than there are Kardashian sisters.

Spotted seven points by Percy Harvin's 103-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown, presented with an injury to Chargers placekicker Nate Kaeding that saved them about nine points, the Vikings took a 17-7 halftime lead. Then the Chargers discovered the Vikings' flaw: Rugby teams are easy to defend.

Modern football is ruled by the forward pass, by precision throws and innovative offense. Into the modern world stumbled the Vikings, who on Sunday viewed the forward pass the way cavemen would view space travel.

Remember Brad Childress' "Kick-Ass Offense?" In a 24-17, season-opening loss at San Diego on Sunday, new Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave unveiled the "Bounced Pass Offense."

McNabb threw for 39 yards, or fewer than a lot of quarterbacks this weekend gained on one play.

Poor planning prompted him to waste 37 of those yards in the first half, leaving only 2 -- that's a 2 followed by a decimal point and as many zeros as you like -- for the second half. He could have presented a yard each as a gift to Kim and Kourtney Kardashian, but Khloe would have been out of luck.

Had McNabb thrown for 19 fewer yards, he would have set a Vikings record for futility. As it was, he set a personal low for a game in which he played 60 minutes.

"For me, being now in my 13th year, it's embarrassing to be sitting up here and to know we only passed for 40, 50 yards, whatever it was," McNabb said. "I mean, I could do that in a series. That's embarrassing to me, with the players that we have."

He finished 7-for-15 for 39 yards, a passer rating of 47.9 and a long completion of 12 yards, and yet often appeared to be more victim than perpetrator.

McNabb deftly avoided the rush on several occasions. He ran three times for 32 yards. Facing an excellent defense on the road, his only interception was the result of a tipped pass and spectacular catch by Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips.

So what went wrong?

His left tackle, Charlie Johnson, imitated a swinging gate on the day his predecessor, Bryant "South Beach Diet" McKinnie helped the Ravens blow out the Steelers.

His deep-threat receiver, Bernard Berrian, imitated the San Diego haze, disappearing in the afternoon sunshine.

His offensive coordinator, married to the running game, called running plays on the first five first downs of the second half, and on seven in a row from the late first half into the fourth quarter, as the Chargers took control of the game.

"First half, I thought we started out great, we were moving the ball," said receiver Michael Jenkins, who had 26 of the 39 receiving yards. "We just kind of hit a wall in the second half, kind of got into a little bit of: Run, run, pass. It was kind of predictable for them on third downs."

What's troubling is that Musgrave's offense is designed to benefit from a power running game. The Vikings ran for 159 yards and a 6.1-yard average, and still couldn't throw the ball.

Last season Childress and then Favre fell out of favor in Minnesota, as their difficult relationship and diminishing returns defined a lost season, but on their worst days Childress and Favre thought of 39 yards as an appetizer. All McNabb provided was garnish.

McNabb didn't make excuses, and he shouldn't. While his blocking proved faulty, it's a quarterback's job to find a way, and McNabb didn't.

In one inept afternoon, the Vikings offered reasons to doubt their new quarterback and their new offensive coordinator.

In the half that decided the game, McNabb threw for 2 yards. That's one for each of the brothers Wilf.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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