Donovan McNabb never had a worse full day as an NFL quarterback than he had in his Vikings debut. We measure up the many different ways in which the opener was a passing failure. Plus, we count the other ways that contributed to the loss with two dozen game notes.
Nobody wanted to make a bigger impact on the Vikings offense than quarterback Donovan McNabb
. Instead, he had one of the worst games of his career in his 143rd start.
Starting with his first pass as a Viking – an interception that gave San Diego the ball on the Vikings 6-yard line – his performance was never anything from which the team could take hope. In fact, he threw for just seven more yards than he ran for – completing 7 of 15 passes for 39 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"For me, being in my 13th year, it's embarrassing for me to sit up here knowing we only passed for whatever it was," McNabb said after the game. "I can do that in a series. That's embarrassing to me, the players that we have. We'll get it corrected."
In his 142 previous starts, he only had two games in which he threw for fewer yards. One came in 2004 when he and the Eagles were on their way to the Super Bowl. He played just one series against St. Louis in the regular-season finale and completed 3 of 3 passes for 36 yards and a touchdown before heading to the bench. The other came in 2007, when he had just 34 yards before being knocked out of the game in the second quarter with an injury against Miami.
In terms of a full game played from start to finish, Sunday was the worst statistical game of his career. After leading the Vikings on a 14-play, 77-yard drive that elapsed 7:34 in the first and second quarters, it was all downhill.
In his final five drives of the game (not including a kneel-down to end the first half), McNabb led the Vikings to just three first downs and completed just1 of 7 passes he threw – a 2-yard checkdown to Adrian Peterson
. If you factor in that he was sacked once, in the final 39:16 of the game, the Vikings' passing game accounted for minus-8 yards. For the game, the Vikings averaged just 1.6 yards per passing play – a near-impossibility in the modern era of NFL football. It wasn't just bad, it was an epic fail.
Fans will remember that Brett Favre had a dismal Vikings debut in 2009 at Cleveland, but the difference was that the Vikings won that game thanks to a superhuman effort from Peterson and a strong effort from the defense. They got neither Sunday and it only shed more light on McNabb's woeful performance.
In a game the Vikings could have and should have won given their 10-point halftime lead and the Chargers being hamstrung without their kicker, the Vikings only being able to pick up two first downs in the second half was the difference between coming out of Sunday's game tied for first in the NFC North at 1-0 and being in sole position of last place at 0-1.
GAME DAY NOTES
Given some of the final numbers from Sunday's game, it's amazing the loss was only by seven points. San Diego had three times as many first downs (31) than the Vikings (10), outgained them 407-187, ran 34 more plays (77-43) and held the ball for 37:17.
The Vikings had the ball for just six minutes, 21 seconds in the entire second half and, from the time they scored to take a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, of the final 39:44 of clock time, San Diego held the ball for 31:51 of it, while the Vikings held the ball for just 7:53.
The entire complexion of the game changed with the opening kickoff because not only did Percy Harvin score a touchdown, but Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding was injured. Punter Mike Scifres had to take over and, while he isn't going to remind anyone of Kaeding, he scored six points, including a 40-yard field goal. He must have gained the confidence of the coaching staff at halftime because, in the second quarter, the Chargers went on a fourth-and-20 situation rather than try a 43-yard field goal.
Peterson notched his 25th career 100-yard rushing game, but then lost it. After gaining exactly 100 yards on his first 15 carries, his 16th (and final) carry was a mix-up between him and McNabb and, after they awkwardly exchanged the ball, Peterson was brought down for a 2-yard loss.
Despite not getting any rhythm after the 14-play marathon in the first half, the Vikings running game was effective. The team ran 26 times for 159 yards – an impressive 6.1-yard average. San Diego ran the ball one more time than the Vikings, but gained just 77 yards – a 2.9-yard average.
The Vikings had nine penalties for 78 yards, while San Diego had just four for 26 yards. What makes that more pronounced a disadvantage is that the Vikings had six penalties for 49 yards in the second half, while the Chargers had none. Five of the Vikings' nine penalties resulted in first downs – after allowing just 11 first downs by penalty last year (best in the NFL).
While Harvin got the season started with a bang when he took the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, he got pulled from that duty after that. The only time he lined up in the deep return position again, the Chargers squib kicked to defensive end Everson Griffen.
Philip Rivers attempted more passes than the Vikings had offensive plays, completing 33 of 48 passes for 335 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His pass distribution was equally impressive, completing 15 passes to his running backs, 11 to his tight ends and seven to his wide receivers.
Rivers completed two or more passes to eight different receivers, three or more to six players. Tight end Antonio Gates caught eight passes for 74 yards and running back Mike Tolbert caught nine passes.
Tolbert had a workhorse day before being injured late in the game. He rushed 12 times for 35 yards, caught nine passes for 58 yards and scored three touchdowns.
If there was a positive to be taken out of the game, it was that Vincent Jackson, the primary wide receiver threat, caught just two passes for 31 yards. He was blanketed most of the day. The secondary held up well, not allowing a wide receiver reception until less than nine minutes remained in the first half.
The Vikings had just three players catch passes – Michael Jenkins with three for 26 yards and a score, Harvin with two catches for seven yards and Peterson with two catches for six yards.
Given the amount of short passes thrown, several Vikings defenders had impressive tackle numbers. Antoine Winfield had 10 tackles (seven solo) with an interception and a forced fumble. Jamara Sanford and Erin Henderson both had nine tackles, Chad Greenway had eight tackles (all solo) and Jared Allen had six tackles, a half-sack and an interception.
The Vikings didn't trail in the game after taking the opening kickoff until 5:01 remained in the fourth quarter.
You can bet Leslie Frazier will have something to say to his defensive line after it committed three offside penalties in the final three minutes as the Vikings desperately tried to give the offense one final chance for a comeback win.
The Vikings attempted their first version of the Wildcat offense in the third quarter and it failed miserably. After picking up a first down (one of just two they had in the second half) on a pair of Peterson runs, Joe Webb got the call in the Blazer formation (given as a tip of the hat to the nickname of the sports teams at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Webb's alma mater). Webb lined up in the shotgun flanked by Peterson and Harvin. He tried to run the first play and lost two yards. On the next play, he handed the ball to Harvin and he was bottled up for two yards. McNabb came back on third-and-10 and threw away the ball in the face of a blitz. It would be the last time the Vikings offense was on the field with the lead.
McNabb's most impressive contribution Sunday was with his legs. He had a 21-yard scramble in the first half that kept a drive alive and had an impressive tap dance for 10 yards on a third-and-7 scramble to keep the Vikings' first drive of the second half momentarily alive.
Jared Allen's interception was a thing of beauty. He dropped into coverage when he saw running back Ryan Mathews leak out for a screen and tracked the ball down like a cornerback to get the interception.
The Vikings opted to squib-kick to the Chargers twice during the game, bouncing kickoffs on the 15-line rather than try to boom kickoffs deep into the end zone or get extra air under them, which was what they did during the preseason.
At halftime, the Vikings trailed in yardage gained by just 12 – 173 to 161. In the second half, San Diego gained 234 yards of total offense, while the Vikings managed just 26 yards in the final 30 minutes.
Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe both started, but were held without a reception. In the last three years, Shiancoe had just one game in which he didn't have a reception. Berrian has had two catches or less in 14 of his last 16 games.
No tight end caught a pass for the Vikings Sunday.
The Vikings run defense did a solid job stopping the Chargers' two-pronged running attack. Mathews and Tolbert combined to carry 24 times for 80 yards. They each broke off one run, Mathews for 21 yards, Tolbert for 13 yards. On their other 20 rushing attempts, they gained just 46 yards.
The Vikings now find themselves in an eerily similar spot to what they were in last year after losing to the Saints on the road to start the year. They came home for Week 2 expecting to beat 0-1 Miami to get the ship pointed in the right direction. Instead, they lost to Miami and were playing uphill from that point on. Tampa Bay, which lost to the Lions, comes to the Metrodome Sunday to be that opponent in 2011.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.