NFL Scores: Chargers win on a Sunday full of suprises, 9/11 tributes

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Members of the Armed Forces took the field in a tribute to the 9/11 victims, fighter jets roared over the stadium at the conclusion of a powerful pregame ceremony, and Minnesota Viking’s receiver Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.

And just like that, the San Diego Chargers’ 2011 NFL season had officially began.

407 yards of offense and 30 first downs later, the Chargers would edge out the Vikings in a game that was a lot closer on the field than it appeared on the stat sheets, 24-17.

The Chargers allowed the Vikings just 187 yards of total offense, held Donovan McNabb to just 39 yards passing and gave up just 98 yards of rushing to the always-dangerous Adrian Peterson.

Philip Rivers and company, on the other hand, had no problem moving the football all game, driving down the field seemingly at will.  But it was critical mistakes at critical times that kept Minnesota alive in this one right up until the end.

Rivers overthrew by a hair a wide-open Vincent Jackson on what would have been a touchdown late in the second quarter.  The Chargers would continue that drive all the way to the Vikings 17 yard line but with just three seconds left in the half, Rivers would be intercepted and the Chargers would come away empty handed again, down at half-time, 17-7.

San Diego’s running back duo of Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert would play a big role in the Chargers second half come-back, combining for 80 yards rushing and 131 yards receiving out of the backfield, including an opening third quarter drive pass from Rivers to Matthews for 37 yards, and later a seven-yard Tolbert run to bring the score to 17-14.  But another costly Rivers interception in the red zone on the next Charger’s possession kept the score close.

Mike Scifres, filling in for the injured Nate Kaeding, would bang home a clutch 40-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to tie the game, and Tolbert would catch his third touchdown pass of the day with five minutes remaining to bring the final score to 24-17 in what should have been a blowout.  But, if you care to be more of an optimist about it, look at it this way: San Diego’s offense was so good, it kept two teams in the game all day.

Oh yeah, the Chargers’ defense wasn’t too bad either.

No doubt, the Chargers narrowly beating the Vikings in week one came as a bit of a shock as most expected it to be more of a blowout, but that doesn’t compare with some of the other scores from around the league yesterday.  Here’s a look at some of those surprises.

Buffalo 41 Kansas City 7

Unlike college football, there really isn’t any week one upsets in the NFL season.  But if there was, this was it.

The Kansas City Chiefs won the AFC West division just a season ago behind up-and-coming stars Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles while the Buffalo Bills had one of their worst seasons in team history in 2010, going just 4-12.  Needless to say, no one really expected the Bills to come into Kansas City and put the hurt on the Chiefs quite like this.

The Chiefs turned the ball over three times, the Bills held Charles, a pro-bowler last year, to just 56 yards rushing, and Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, apparently psyched that the Bills decided to pass on several rookie quarterbacks with their No. 3 pick in the draft this past offseason, completed 17 of 25 passes for 208 yards.

Again, it’s week one of an NFL season for which players had little time to prepare for considering the off-season lockout, so it might just be rust on the part of the Chiefs.  Or this could be the year the Bills get out of the AFC East basement.  It’s too early to tell, but a shocking outcome none-the-less.

Baltimore 35 Pittsburgh 7

Apparently bored during this past off-season, a few unprovoked Pittsburgh Steeler players decided to call out rival Baltimore Raven’s quarterback Joe Flacco, telling the media that the Ravens would never be a contender as long as he was calling the signals.

Wouldn’t you know, the Ravens crushed the Steelers in this highly anticipated week one match-up behind 224 yards passing and three touchdowns from Flacco and 107 yards rushing from running back Ray Rice.  The Raven’s defense did their part as well, proving to the football world that they are good as ever by forcing seven Steelers turnovers.

As if it wasn’t clear that these two teams despise each other already, the game also featured a near fistfight between the clearly frustrated Pittsburgh defense and a few of the Raven’s offensive players, leaving little question that this might be the new biggest rivalry in football and leaving a lot to look forward to when these two meet again in November during the regular season and then likely again in the playoffs for the third time in four years.

Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison will most likely have decapitated another player by that point in the season, but equally surprising from this game yesterday was that Harrison went without a finable, concussion-imposing hit, but hey, it’s only week one.  Give him time.

Houston 34 Indianapolis 7

The Houston Texans are good and the Indianapolis Colts were without quarterback Payton Manning.  The fact that the Texans won is not much of a surprise.  What is though is how convincingly they did.

The Texans also entered the game missing one of their best players, running back Arian Foster, but his absence didn’t make nearly as big a difference as that of Manning.  Foster’s replacement, Ben Tate, rushed for 116 yards and Texan’s quarterback Matt Schaub picked apart the Colts defense for 220 yards and a touchdown as Houston jumped out to a 34-0 lead at half time and never looked back.

Also not surprisingly, Kerry Collins, who came out of retirement merely 3 weeks ago to replace the injured Manning, hasn’t quite shaken the rust off his game yet.  Collins fumbled consecutive snaps on back-to-back offensive series’, each of which was returned for a touchdown.

The biggest knock against Houston every season is their sub-par defense, and their defense looked good yesterday.  But honestly, they beat up on a guy who, up until three weeks ago, was probably lying on a beach drinking beers or playing golf somewhere, enjoying his retirement.  Their defense is still unproven.  But with Manning out for at least a couple more months, this could be the year that the Texans get over the hump and beat out the Colts for a playoff spot.

Chicago 30 Atlanta 12

A lot of NFL insiders from the sports media world have the Atlanta Falcons going to the Super Bowl this year, and Jay Cutler, standing behind the worst offensive line in the league, apparently has toughness issues and no receivers to throw to.

Apparently not.

Culter was 22 -32 for 312 yards with one interception yesterday and the Bears’ defense stepped up in a big way, forcing three turnovers, one of which was returned for a touchdown as Chicago entered the 2011 season looking to prove that its appearance in the NFC Championship game last season was not a fluke.

The road back to that game doesn’t get any easier for the Bears this season though as the NFC North could be considered one of the most competitive divisions in football, and all but the Vikings were week one winners.  As a Bears fan though, this game shouldn’t have even made this article as it was no surprise to me that Chicago won its first game.

That last line was a lie.  Are you kidding me?  As a Bears fan, of course I’m always surprised that the team looks good!

New York Jets 27 Dallas 24

On a more serious note, again, the result of this game is not much of a surprise as everyone expects the New York Jets to contend for the Super Bowl this season and the Dallas Cowboys are much more improved and injury-free than they were a year ago.

The reason this game gets a comment is because of the very powerful pregame tribute paid to the victims of 9/11 prior to the beginning of the game last night in New York City.

Like all of the NFL games yesterday, the opening ceremony consisted of an American flag the size of the field being stretched across the turf while “Taps” was played by a lone trumpet.  But, as the site of all the chaos and tragedy 10 years ago, the pregame ceremony in New York City meant something a little different.

New York City firefighters and policemen, many of who lost friends and family during the attacks, stood holding the enormous flag and as NBC cameras zoomed in on their faces, you could see lips quivering and tears slowly streaming down their cheeks as they paid homage to their fallen brethren.  Live shots of Ground Zero were intermittently displayed throughout the opening broadcast as well, and by the time the announcers came back on the air, there wasn’t a dry eye in the building, or my own living room for that matter.

It was a pretty intense and emotional scene, but a very classy job done by New York City, and all of the NFL cities, yesterday with the tribute, and that is no surprise either.  A very sorrowful way to begin an NFL season, yet a very exciting opening week of the games as it has officially kicked off.  I’m glad America’s new favorite past time is back.

photos courtesy of theseoduke  Chargers961sC, Dennoit and Flickr upload bot via flickr

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