After watching every snap of the Chargers opening win against Minnesota, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about this season. Although every member of Chargers nation let out a simultaneous “You have GOT to be kidding me” when Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, seeing Shaun Phillips rise to the occasion and intercept McNabb’s first pass at the five resulting in an easy touchdown calmed the waters. Other observations:
The defense excelled the entire game. McNabb had 39 yards passing and he didn’t miss a single snap. In the second half they did not give up a point. They got in the backfield and tied up runners, broke up screens and locked down the Vikings offense. The new additions of Spikes, LaBoy and Sanders were making plays and Corey Liuget made an impact. He would have registered his first sack had he arrived a second earlier than Antwan Barnes. The secondary was great as Minnesota wide receivers only had five receptions for 33 yards and no receptions for the tight ends.
Philip Rivers looked great passing the ball, really finding his groove in the second half. He stayed patient and did not force the deep ball with Minnesota playing two deep zone on Vincent Jackson all game. Gates, Mathews and Tolbert made the underneath game work and kept the chains moving. The offense was hamstrung with no kicker forcing them into situations to go for it where a field goal would have been possible but thankfully they survived and losing the kicker didn’t cost them a win.
Ryan Mathews reminds me of Barry Sanders in the sense that you can expect one big highlight reel run a game from him. He had one big run and a big 37-yard reception. I’m not putting him in Sanders league but I get that feeling watching him. He has the breakaway speed and any carry can go to the house. If he can stay healthy I think he’ll be Comeback Player of the Year.
Antonio Gates looked good catching and running with the ball. Its also nice to see he’s not mentioned anywhere on the injury report.
It was a bad feeling knowing Nate Kaeding went down for the season and the only kick he made was the kickoff. One play cost the Chargers a pro bowl kicker and a 7-0 lead for the Vikings. Much love to punter Mike Scifres for rising to the occasion and nailing a 40-yarder. I wonder if this was a blessing in disguise. Kaeding was already on the hot seat. He’s a great regular season kicker but when the added pressure of the playoffs are included, he fails on an epic level, most recently at home against the Jets two seasons ago. The Chargers can now sign a proven vet, hopefully with a lot of playoff experience to fill the opening.
Last but not least, the game MVP Mike Tolbert. Tolbert looks to be in midseason form already. Thankfully, his injury is not significant and he will be ready to go against New England. This game was a good one on a number of levels. The Chargers did a great job on special teams in the preseason but after the kickoff gets returned in the first game that counts, you know special teams coach Rich Bisacchia is going to be all over the special teams all year long. Once special teams catches up to the offense and defense, the Chargers will solidify themselves a top seed in the playoffs.