MINNEAPOLIS — The offensive linemen kept dropping and the hits kept coming on Philip Rivers, prompting San Diego Chargers great and CBS analyst Dan Fouts to plead during the telecast for coach Mike McCoy to pull his starting quarterback for his own safety.
Midway through the fourth quarter, McCoy obliged, and the Chargers limped out of TCF Bank Stadium beaten in more ways than one.
Rivers was sacked four times and the Chargers lost three offensive linemen to injury in a 31-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Left tackle King Dunlap (concussion), left guard Orlando Franklin (right ankle) and center Chris Watt (groin) all left the game with injuries, creating a musical chairs game of shuffling up front. Right guard D.J. Fluker and swingman Chris Hairston also paid through aches and pains to make sure the unit could field five players in the fourth quarter.
"Our loss is not on the o-line," said Rivers, who was 21 for 34 for 246 yards with one touchdown and an interception that was returned for a touchdown. "It's not on them at all. It's on the quarterback and I can name some more things."
Rivers nearly had to leave the game after taking a crunching hit from linebacker Anthony Barr in the third quarter. But he was able to get his wind back after a timeout and hang in there against a relentless Vikings pass rush.
"I did not want to let him sit in there and throw the football," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "So we decided that we were either going to get the ball out of his hands or we were going to hit him."
With his team trailing 24-7 early in the fourth quarter, Rivers fired a pass to Stevie Johnson that bounced off his hands deep in Vikings territory. Linebacker Chad Greenway grabbed it and followed a convoy down the sideline for a 91-yard touchdown that ended any hopes of a Chargers comeback.
"Just trying to will a touchdown when it really wasn't necessary," Rivers said. "We had to score three times anyway. That there is really the thing I'm most sick about."
He was replaced by Kellen Clemens on the next drive. Keenan Allen had 12 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns for the Chargers (1-2).
Adrian Peterson rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters of work that came hours after his wife, Ashley, gave birth to their son, Axyl. In the first home game against San Diego since Peterson set the single-game rushing record in 2007, Peterson scored on a vintage 43-yard run around right end that included a vicious stiff arm on safety Jimmy Wilson.
"He is one of the best backs in the history of the game," McCoy said. "I think for a while we did a great job containing him to a certain extent. Then they got the big one. That's what the good ones do."
Rivers hit Malcolm Floyd on a 39-yard pass that helped set up his 34-yard TD to Allen that cut the deficit to 10-7 just before halftime. But the Chargers went three-and-out to start the third quarter and Peterson broke off his big run to put the Vikings in control.
"We didn't protect Phil as well as we needed to," Watt said. "We had some injuries out there, which is unfortunate. Guys switching positions. They fought their butts off out there, but it wasn't enough."
The Chargers offense has struggled the last two weeks in losses to the Vikings and Bengals, but Rivers remained undaunted.
"We've got a long way to go. A loooong way to go," Rivers said. "We've been 1-2 before and won double digits. I'm making no predictions, but there's a lot of football left."
NOTES: CB Jason Verrett (foot) also left the game and did not return, further depleting a secondary that scratched CB Brandon Flowers (knee) before the game. ... Clemens went 5 for 6 for 63 yards and a TD to Allen in mop-up duty. ... Melvin Gordon rushed for 51 yards on 14 carries.