Notebook: Percy Harvin goes distance on opening kick, then disappears
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
SAN DIEGO -- The Minnesota Vikings waited the entire week to decide whether Percy Harvin would return kickoffs in Sunday's opener.
They ended up making the right decision -- at least for the season's first 15 seconds.
Harvin took back the opening kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead but only was deep one other time in a 24-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
"We were just hoping they'd kick it in a spot where we could run the return we had set up," Harvin said. "They kicked it perfect."
Nate Kaeding's kick hung in the air in the right side of the end zone, but Harvin brought it out anyway, knowing he could set up his blockers for the "bounce" return dialed up by special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer.
Harvin steered around one man at the 10, broke linebacker Darryl Gamble's tackle near the 20 and then made Kaeding miss at the 30 to get into the clear.
"I just said, 'Let's go,'" Harvin said. "Once I cut back and seen nobody there, I knew it was a touchdown."
It was the fourth return touchdown of Harvin's career and second-longest in Vikings history, shorter only than Aundrae Allison's 104-yarder against Detroit on Dec. 2, 2007.
Yet Lorenzo Booker was deep on the second kickoff, which was handled by punter Mike Scifres because Kaeding apparently suffered a significant left knee injury while trying to tackle Harvin and went to the locker room.
When the Vikings did put Harvin deep again, after the Chargers tied the game at 17 with 10:05 remaining, Scifres squibbed the ball to up man Everson Griffen.
"We made a decision that he was going to do it, and we all know he's capable of scoring every time he touches it," coach Leslie Frazier said. "Would have liked to have gotten him more touches. We tried to go with him late in the second half, and they wouldn't kick to him."
Frazier had expressed throughout the week he's concerned about tiring out Harvin as well as exposing his No. 1 receiver to the injury risk inherent in the return game. Harvin had lobbied to keep the job, and Priefer made clear Harvin was the No. 1 man on the depth chart.
Harvin also was relatively quiet on offense on Sunday, catching two passes for 7 yards and rushing four times for 15. Asked why he wasn't used more on returns, Harvin said only, "I'm not the head coach. You've got to ask Coach Leslie Frazier. I'm only doing what I'm asked to do. Anytime they call my number, I'm going to be there."
Donovan McNabb's first pass in a Vikings uniform didn't work out so well.
The Chargers went three-and-out after Harvin's touchdown and punted, giving the Vikings possession at their own 12-yard line. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave had a run play called, but McNabb saw Harvin getting a 7-yard cushion wide left and decided to throw the one-step option.
"We knew watching film they gave up a lot of cushion," Harvin said.
Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips saw it coming, timed his leap perfectly and then caught his own deflection to set up San Diego's first touchdown three plays later.
"It was a great play by Phillips. I thought one-on-one with the corner, Percy would win that all the time," McNabb said. "It's tough, and (Phillips) elevated and tapped it to himself. But for me, I would love to have that back, and obviously, things would be a lot different."
Phillips caught another McNabb pass in the second half and would have returned it for a touchdown, but right tackle Phil Loadholt's false start wiped out the play. McNabb's final passing line was putrid nonetheless -- 7-of-15 for 39 yards, a touchdown and a 47.9 rating.
He didn't get much help from his offensive line, which gave up two sacks and a series of hits, including one that caused a deep ball for open receiver Bernard Berrian to come up short.
"I can sit here and make excuses, but as an offensive player, no matter what they do, we can't let the defense dictate what we do," McNabb said. "We were in control of it in the first half. In the second, we just didn't get in rhythm like we needed to."
Tight ends invisible
Perhaps the most surprising part of McNabb's poor passing day was a lack of involvement for his tight ends.
Despite using two or three tight ends on virtually every snap, McNabb only threw two passes their way and one was a throwaway over rookie Kyle Rudolph's head late in the second quarter. A throw to Visanthe Shiancoe on an out-breaking route in the third was low.
"A couple times, we had them on some deeper crosses and their linebackers were just getting deep," McNabb said. "When that happens, you have to check the ball down. There were a couple times where I scrambled, and that was because they were playing some man, but they had guys underneath our tight ends as well as on our checkdowns, which left running lanes for me."
Right end Jared Allen made one of the day's most remarkable plays in an unfamiliar spot.
Dropping in coverage on a zone blitz, the 6-foot-6, 270-pound onetime tight end picked up Chargers halfback Ryan Mathews on a wheel route and got his head around in time to intercept Philip Rivers' touch pass.
"I don't even like covering people," Allen said, "but sometimes you've got to do it."
The play came in a big spot, too. San Diego scored a touchdown on its opening possession of the second half to cut the deficit to 17-14 and had driven 53 yards to the Vikings' 24-yard line when Rivers turned the ball over for the second time in the game.
"I just turned around, and the ball was there, honestly," Allen said. "If I had a little speed or jukes, maybe I could've done something more with it."
On their ensuing possession, the Vikings unveiled a Wildcat-type formation with No. 3 quarterback Joe Webb in the shotgun and McNabb split out wide.
The timing was somewhat peculiar and results not positive. Webb lost 2 yards on a quarterback draw on first down, then handed off to Harvin -- who played several snaps in the backfield -- on an option play that gained only 2.
"It was something to keep a defense on its toes," McNabb said. "They were confused. They didn't know where to go. I thought it would be a big play for us on both plays. Just didn't really work out as well as wanted it to."
McNabb threw incomplete for halfback Adrian Peterson on third-and-10, the Vikings punted and San Diego quickly drove for a tying field goal.
Frazier said the Vikings chose that time to unveil the formation because they were in the right area of the field, with possession at their own 43-yard line.
"If it doesn't succeed, then you say, 'Well, maybe you should have tried it somewhere else,'" Frazier said. "If it does success, then you, from our standpoint, you're going to say, 'Good job.' It just so happens they did a good job of defending it, but it was purely where we were and we felt good about the field position that we had."
If there was a positive on offense, it was the running of Peterson, who made one Chargers safety (Bob Sanders) miss and broke an ankle tackle by another (Eric Weddle) on the Vikings' biggest gain, a 46-yard run in the second quarter.
McNabb threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins on the next play -- the Vikings' lone offensive touchdown.
"I don't think anyone hates to lose more than me," said Peterson, who finished with 16 rushes for 98 yards (6.1 average) but only 24 yards on seven carries (3.4 average) in the second half.
"I feel like this game, even though we lost, is going to make us better. Offensively, we'll be able to get together on Monday and watch some film, and we'll be able to see some of the things that we can do more to create more opportunities to make plays offensively."
The Vikings suffered no known injuries in the game, but the Chargers had several.
Early reports said Kaeding likely had a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his non-kicking leg, ending his season.
Defensive end Luis Castillo was seen being carted past the Vikings' locker room with a large brace on his left knee, and halfback Mike Tolbert also suffered an apparent knee injury.
• Chants of "USA! USA!" went up from the crowd at Qualcomm Stadium after a parasailer descended onto the field before the game, flying an American flag, and twice more as pregame festivities continued on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Military personnel unfurled a giant American flag that covered the field during the National Anthem, performed by pop singer Colbie Caillet and followed by a military flyover.
• As they were in the preseason, the Vikings were introduced as a team, rather than individually.