SAN DIEGO — The Seattle Seahawks can only hope Tarvaris Jackson someday runs their offense as smoothly as Philip Rivers controls the San Diego Chargers.
Rivers went 5 for 6 while leading an 89-yard scoring in his only series for the Chargers, but Thomas Clayton rushed for a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown with 3:05 left in the Seahawks’ 24-17 victory over San Diego on Thursday night in both clubs’ exhibition opener.
Cornell graduate Bryan Walters returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter for the Chargers, while Mike Tolbert caught an 8-yard scoring pass to cap the only drive by Rivers, who was nearly flawless in his first game back after starting last season’s Pro Bowl.
Jackson passed for 13 yards over two moderately successful series in his debut as Matt Hasselbeck’s replacement with the Seahawks, who trailed 10-0 at halftime. The longtime Vikings backup also was sacked twice, and he was long gone by the time undrafted rookie Josh Portis led two late scoring drives capped by Clayton’s decisive romp through the San Diego defense.
Leon Washington rushed for a 1-yard score on the Seahawks’ opening drive of the second half, and Portis hit Anthony McCoy with a tying 6-yard TD pass with 4:02 left.
San Diego rookie Scott Tolzien’s fumble set up Clayton’s go-ahead score, but the former Wisconsin quarterback drove the Chargers to the Seattle 5 in the final minute before his final pass pinballed among several players and fell incomplete in the Seahawks’ end zone.
Jackson went 3 for 5 in his first game action with the Seahawks, who signed him as a free agent last month to replace Hasselbeck, Seattle’s starter for the past decade. Although he spent the past five seasons in Minnesota with new Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, Jackson had just five practices with the Seahawks before his preseason debut — which he made with starting receivers Sidney Rice and Mike Williams sitting out.
Jackson coolly completed a third-down pass over the middle to Doug Baldwin on the Seahawks’ third play, but was called for intentional grounding several plays later while eluding the Chargers’ rush. Jackson alertly scrambled for a first down when every Seattle receiver was covered on the Seahawks’ second drive, but was sacked on consecutive plays moments later — again with every target well covered.
Rivers moved the Chargers’ first-stringers flawlessly in his only action, hitting Vincent Jackson perfectly in stride down the San Diego sideline with a 48-yard pass before getting another pass to Tolbert, who leaped and lunged over the goal line.
The Chargers played without tight end Antonio Gates, cornerback Antoine Cason, left tackle Marcus McNeill and linebacker Larry English, while presumptive starting running back Ryan Mathews didn’t start and carried the ball just twice. Coming off their first season without a playoff berth in the past five years, the Chargers are counting on continuity with an offense that lost just one starter after leading the NFL in yards last season.
The defense is undergoing bigger changes, but San Diego yielded just 85 yards by the Seahawks’ starters in the first half of its first game under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. The longtime 49ers coordinator replaced new Carolina head coach Ron Rivera, bringing along ex-San Francisco linebackers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy.
“It was nice to jell, and I feel like we did some things pretty good,” Spikes said. “I think the communication was good for today, and we’ll take it, look over the little nuances, and correct it tomorrow.”
Former Chargers backup Charlie Whitehurst led the Seahawks to their first 10 points on the opening drives of the second half, but the biggest highlight belonged to Walters, a Seattle-area native and an undrafted second-year pro with an economics degree from his Ivy League alma mater. He got hurt in last year’s training camp and spent last December on the Chargers’ practice squad, but made an early splash in his second attempt to make the roster.
Walters, who graduated from high school in Kirkland, Wash., caught the kickoff in San Diego’s end zone and ran into a good-sized corridor through the wedge, keeping his feet after Josh Pinkard’s flying tackle attempt and outrunning the rest of the Seahawks.