SAN DIEGO (AP) — Back in 2007, the San Diego Chargers were embarrassed, disappointed and discouraged after letting rookie Adrian Peterson run over, through and around them for an NFL single-game record of 296 yards.
Four seasons is a long time in the NFL, and the Chargers would like to think that’s not going to happen again when they open the season Sunday by hosting Peterson, Donovan McNabb and the rest of the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s four years ago, and if you look at our defense, we don’t have many guys from that team here still,” said free safety Eric Weddle, who was a rookie that year and remembers playing only a handful of snaps in the 35-17 loss at Minneapolis that dropped the Chargers’ record to 4-4. Somehow, the Bolts bounced back and made it all the way to the AFC championship game in Norv Turner’s first year as coach.
“We haven’t really looked at that film,” Weddle said. “We don’t pay attention to it. This is now. We’re worried about what this defense is doing, not four years ago and what happened. It’s a different team. We were losing then. We ended up in the AFC championship game. So, a lot of things have changed since then.”
Although they weren’t so hot against the run during the exhibition season, these Chargers figure to be better after adding veteran inside linebacker Takeo Spikes and strong safety Bob Sanders in the offseason, and making end Corey Liuget their first-round draft choice. It will be Sanders’ first regular-season game since he tore his right biceps on the first defensive series in the 2010 season opener while with Indianapolis.
The Chargers also have a new defensive coordinator. Greg Manusky was hired away from the San Francisco 49ers to replace Ron Rivera, who left to become coach of the Carolina Panthers.
“I expect not to give up 296 yards on the ground. If we do that, I 100 percent guarantee we’re not going to win,” said Weddle, who signed a $40 million contract in the offseason to remain with the Chargers. “That’s just not in our minds at all. We don’t even think about that. The past is past. It’s the whole mentality of this team. We’re not thinking about yesterday. It’s all about now.”
That might be easier said than done, even as the Chargers try to avoid another slow start under Turner.
“Since this is the first time we have faced them since that game, I’m sure their coach is, especially the defensive coordinator, is getting those guys pumped up,” Peterson said. “They know. It’s not a secret. I’m sure they’re going to be pumped up to go. It’s not all about me. There’s 10 other guys out on the field that they’ve got to stop and account for. So if they focus on the run, which would be good, be great, we’ll beat them in different ways.”
Peterson said he occasionally sees Chargers linebackers Stephen Cooper and Shaun Phillips in the offseason.
“They kind of make little remarks about that game, saying I caught them slipping and this and that and the other. But, you know, I’m sure those guys will come back focused this year and with some type of vengeance. I know I’m going to be ready to take care of my business.”
Plus, Peterson said he’s excited that he gets to run on grass at Qualcomm Stadium.
“You get the natural feel,” he said. “Football is played on grass, to me.”
Two years after Peterson ran wild against San Diego, McNabb threw for a season-high 450 yards against the Chargers while with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bolts won that game, 31-23.
Facing the two stars gives Liuget an interesting perspective on his NFL debut.
“I was watching these guys last year on TV,” he said. “Just think, Donovan McNabb, one of the greats, and Adrian Peterson, who’s on his way to greatness, and now I’m out here playing against them, chasing them, doing the things that I love to do, playing football. It feels great to go out and perform against these guys.”
The Chargers know they have to tighten their defense against Peterson.
“It’s definitely going to be a pretty explosive game, a lot of running,” Liuget said. “We have to be very technique-sound and get him to the ground.”
Cooper, a backup inside linebacker who’s trying to play with a torn right biceps, agreed.
“If we play disciplined, gap-sound, get off our blocks and tackle well, we should be OK,” Cooper said.
Cooper was a starter when Peterson ran wild.
“I was witness to him running for 290-some yards, but at the end of the day, we’re a totally different team now,” Cooper said. “Our offense is equipped to putting up big points like they always do, and our defense is sound. Preseason hasn’t been the way we wanted it to be, but now that the defense is coming together this week. Hopefully it carries over to Sunday.”
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is looking to return the Chargers to the playoffs after they shockingly missed the postseason last year. Rivers, who threw for 4,710 yards last year — the 10th-highest total in NFL history — will have his full complement of receivers from the start of the season. Last year, wideout Vincent Jackson missed the first 10 games in a nasty contract dispute and tight end Antonio Gates was hobbled much of the second half with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
“That was the first year here where we weren’t able to dig ourselves out of the hole and I think going 9-7 and being done at the end of that last regular season game, that hurt,” Rivers said.
The star QB said the lockout helped hold down the usual hype surrounding the Bolts, who nonetheless can’t squash rumors that they might eventually be headed to a stadium that Anschutz Entertainment Group wants to build in downtown Los Angeles.
“I think that was good for us,” Rivers said. “We came in hungry and humble and our mindset is to get off to a fast start. Not that we didn’t know it before, but we got a big dose of reality in the fact that we can’t count on our late-season run. We have to start strong from week one.”
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