Lost in the excitement of Adrian Peterson's rushing record Sunday was the fact the Vikings' defense played very well despite being without cornerback Antoine Winfield.
A hamstring injury forced Winfield to miss only his third game in three-plus seasons with the team. Rookie Marcus McCauley, who a week earlier had been taken out of the nickel package, played the entire game at left corner. Charles Gordon was used in the slot in nickel situations for the second game in a row.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier used a variety of different looks, and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was lost for much of the afternoon. He completed only 19 of 42 passes for 197 yards and had no touchdowns and one interception (by Gordon) in the Vikings' 35-17 victory.
"Some of the things we are doing may look like blitzes, but it's really not," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We just wanted to make Rivers a little uncomfortable, and sometimes when you get the best of people, we have the guys at the back end that care of business."
The Vikings caught Rivers off guard.
"They played us a lot differently than we've seen on tape," Rivers said. "Just about every snap, they were bringing somebody. ... They were in control."
The Vikings had given up fewer than 200 passing yards only once this season -- Atlanta had 169 yards through the air in the season opener -- and surrendered more than 300 yards in three of the past four games before Sunday.
"Everybody showed confidence in me," McCauley said. "Knowing the guys in the secondary and the guys on the defense have your back, and Coach Frazier having a rookie go out there and play every snap of the game was big to me."
The Vikings held Chargers All-Star running back LaDainian Tomlinson to 40 yards on 16 carries with one touchdown.
"We knew they weren't going to pass as much," defensive end Kenechi Udeze said. "They are a run-oriented team. We just knew if we got in there and forced them into passing situations, you would have to [throw]. [Rivers] likes to get rid of the ball fast so we just hunkered down at every opportunity they gave us."
Defensive end Ray Edwards had the only Vikings sack of the day. However, Rivers was forced to get rid of the ball on several occasions. The Vikings also ended up with six passes defensed, including two by right cornerback Cedric Griffin.
Winfield, meanwhile, admitted it was "tough" watching the game from the sideline. He said he realized he wouldn't be able to play Sunday morning. "I came in, was on the bike trying to stretch it out, and it wasn't ready," he said.
On the receiving end
With Troy Williamson still in South Carolina following the death of his grandmother last week, Aundrae Allison was among the Vikings' four active receivers. Bobby Wade also saw extensive playing time despite nursing a hyperextended left knee.
"I think we did fine," said Robert Ferguson, who suffered a concussion in the victory. "A lot of people were concerned about two rookies going out there, but all week long we've been preparing and the coaches have been preparing. They had confidence in them, and I had confidence in them. We finally got that big play from the receiver position that we've been needing."
That play was a 40-yard third-quarter touchdown pass from Brooks Bollinger to Sidney Rice, the other rookie receiver. Rice finished with a team-leading four receptions for 66 yards. Ferguson, who said he isn't going to shave until he catches his first touchdown as a Viking, had three catches for 24 yards and Wade had one catch for 12 yards.
What about Holcomb?
Quarterback Kelly Holcomb was in uniform Sunday, one week after suffering a neck injury serious enough that he was left numb for several seconds in a 23-16 loss to Philadelphia.
Holcomb was inactive as the Vikings' No. 3 quarterback, but he was eligible to play if both Tarvaris Jackson and Bollinger were injured. The decision seemed minor until Jackson left Sunday's game because of a concussion and was replaced by Bollinger.
Holcomb said he was an emergency quarterback in the truest sense of the word. As he spoke Sunday, Holcomb could barely twist his head toward a questioner.
"I'm not sure what would have happened [if Bollinger had been forced out]," Holcomb said. "I can't take a hit at this point. I know that. I probably would have been out there doing handoffs and that's it."
Told you so
Not even the Vikings could have predicted the magnitude of Peterson's first eight games in the NFL.
"Who could know that?" coach Brad Childress said. "But suffice it to say, I think his shoulder is going to be OK."
Indeed, Peterson fractured his collarbone last season while playing for Oklahoma and then reinjured it Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl. Several NFL teams were concerned he would not be ready to play when the regular season began. Rick Spielman, Vikings vice president of player personnel, even suggested in a radio interview that Peterson needed surgery.
Ultimately, the injury healed naturally, although Peterson wears protective padding over the area.
With Peterson starting at tailback and Wade nursing his knee injury, the Vikings turned to a pair of new return specialists. Allison replaced Peterson on kickoffs, and Mewelde Moore made his 2007 debut as a punt returner.
Allison returned the Chargers' first kickoff 62 yards, utilizing a fake pass to Peterson, and managed 18 yards on his other return.
Moore set up Peterson's third touchdown with a 42-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.
Gates a virtual no-show
It seemed like the perfect mismatch: Chargers All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates and the Vikings' 32nd-ranked pass defense.
Gates, however, was held to one catch for 10 yards and got only a few other passes thrown his way.
"The Vikings did a good job doing a variety of things," Gates said. "They did some quick jams, and showed us a lot of different looks. They just had us off-balance the whole game."
Vikings defensive end Erasmus James played in his second game of the season as he continues recovering from knee and shoulder injuries. Unofficial statistics credited him with one assisted tackle.
In addition to Winfield, Williamson and Holcomb, the Vikings' other game-day inactives were safety Mike Doss, running back Naufahu Tahi, tight end Garrett Mills, offensive lineman Chase Johnson and defensive lineman Jayme Mitchell.
The Vikings again employed a defensive formation with three linemen, two linebackers and six defensive backs on a few occasions in passing situations. Safety Tank Williams, who had started the past two games but was back on the bench with Dwight Smith returning, was the sixth DB.
Chargers strong safety Clinton Hart said he hadn't seen Peterson run that much before the Chargers had to prepare for him last week. "I don't watch college football, but I had heard a lot about him when he was at Oklahoma," Hart said. "But when a guy gets to this level, you think it's a lot of hype about how good a guy is. But he's good. He's really good. It's great to be young and that aggressive as a runner. He's something else."
Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman said the Vikings "just wanted the game more than we did." He added, "They dove for every inch, fought for everything. They blocked a second or two longer. When you're that physical, good things happen."
KEVIN SEIFERT, JUDD ZULGAD AND MARK CRAIG