Chargers Fail A.P. Exam

So much for the stars rising to the occasion. LaDainian Tomlinson averaged 2.5 yards per carry; Antonio Gates caught one pass for 10 yards; and Shawne Merriman played like he had Adrian Peterson on his fantasy team. Here's a look at what worked and what didn't against the Vikings.

WHAT WORKED

--Antonio Cromartie got his chance to return a kick after all. The sizzling sophomore scored his third touchdown in the last eights days by returning a missed 58-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell 109 yards for a touchdown. The return is the longest play in NFL history and, although it could be tied, it will never be broken.

"The guys made a wall for me, just like last week," Cromartie said. "All I had to do was run down the sideline."

--Legedu Naanee hauled in his first two receptions, good for 22 and 17 yards. The latter catch came on third-and-13 and set up LaDainian Tomlinson's 1-yard touchdown. Unfortunately, the Chargers never went back to Naanee after the first quarter.

Norv Turner has a habit of phasing out rookie receivers as the game goes on. For example, Craig Davis' receptions this season include four in the first quarter, three in the second, two in the third and none in the fourth. Davis missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury but should return next week.

--Mike Scifres averaged 45 yards on eight punts and saved a touchdown by slowing down a charging Mewelde Moore. Excluding the big return by Moore, every other kick by Scifres pinned the Vikings inside their own 22-yard line.

--If nothing else, the Chargers picked a good week to lose. The Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders all lost as well, so the Chargers didn't lose any ground in the AFC West. The Chargers and Chiefs remain tied at the top at 4-4, with the Broncos a game back at 3-5.

WHAT DIDN'T

--Adrian Peterson entered the game with a bull's-eye on his back and found a way to gore the Chargers anyway. Peterson set a single-game rushing record with 296 yards and chipped in three touchdowns and a couple of receptions.

The Chargers defenders played as individuals instead of teammates, chasing the ball instead of staying home and manning their assignments. Shawne Merriman could not keep contain; Marlon McCree and Clinton Hart took awful angles to the ball; and Matt Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper failed to step up and plug holes with any sense of urgency.

Bottom line: Peterson broke the spirit of each defender out there.

"Everybody talks about him running upright, but he knows when to drop his shoulder and lower the boom," said NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders.

--Philip Rivers picked a bad day to lose his accuracy. While Rivers was misfiring and turning the ball over, former Chargers quarterback Drew Brees was carving up a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that allows fewer yards through the air than the Vikings.

Rivers completed 19-of-42 passes for 197 yards with an interception and a lost fumble. Brees, meanwhile, completed 35-of-49 passes for 445 yards and three touchdowns.

Rivers did evoke memories of Brees with his inability to throw the deep ball, badly underthrowing Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson on potential touchdowns. The Chargers punted after each misfire.

--Tomlinson doesn't like being the second-best running back on the field. On Sunday, there wasn't much he could do about it. The offensive line gave Tomlinson nowhere to run, as L.T. lost yardage on a quarter of his carries.

Tomlinson is a prideful player who believes no defense can stop the Chargers when they execute. However, the tenacious Vikings defense left him humbled.

"We knew that had a tough defense and they proved it to us today," Tomlinson said. "You have to give credit to their defense. Philip was getting pressured. They brought guys from different places and caught us on the run. We wanted to try to go at them, our strength versus their strength. They were more physical than us and they just whooped us."

--Antonio Gates picked up 113 receiving yards in the Chargers' two previous road games. On Sunday, he fell more than 100 yards shy of that number. It was Gates' worst outing since Dec. 16 of last season, when the Chiefs held him to one catch for seven yards.

--Already without Shaun Phillips (groin), the defense lost Luis Castillo to a right knee injury on the first play of the second half. The majority of Peterson's yards (253) came after Castillo went out.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Chargers return home to face the no-longer-undefeated Indianapolis Colts. The Colts look to bounce back after blowing a fourth-quarter lead against the New England Patriots and falling, 24-20.

Joseph Addai had more than 100 yards rushing and receiving against the Patriots and must be licking his chops after seeing what Peterson did to the Chargers.

The Chargers are more worried about themselves then their upcoming foe.

"We go home, rest up, correct the things we need to correct and get ready for Indianapolis," Merriman said.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.


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