The Chargers rebounded from yet another special teams blunder and an injury to kicker Nate Kaeding to turn the boos to cheers at Qualcomm Stadium. Fans who thought they were seeing another slow start under coach Norv Turner instead got a victory.
Rivers rolled left and waited for Tolbert to get open inside the 5-yard line, then lobbed the winning pass. Rivers completed 33 of 48 passes for 335 yards and was intercepted twice. Tolbert also scored on a 7-yard run in the third quarter and had a 1-yard TD catch in the first quarter.
Minnesota led 17-7 at halftime, but gained only 26 yards in the second half. Their new quarterback, Donovan McNabb, struggled against San Diego's defense and was only 7 of 15 for 39 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
Peterson, who set the NFL single-game record with 296 yards against San Diego as a rookie in 2007, had 98 yards on 16 carries one day after signing a contract extension potentially worth $100 million.
San Diego's rally included Tolbert bulling in from the 7 early in the third quarter and punter Mike Scifres kicking his first NFL field goal, a 40-yarder with 10:05 left that tied the game at 17.
The game had a crazy first few minutes.
Minnesota's Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, showing that the Chargers hadn't fully erased their special teams nightmare of 2010, which cost them a playoff berth. Kaeding hurt his left knee on the play and missed the rest of the game.
On the Vikings' first play from scrimmage, Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips deflected McNabb's pass and intercepted it at the 6-yard line. Three plays later, Rivers found Tolbert wide open for a 1-yard scoring pass to tie it.
Ryan Longwell kicked a 33-yard field goal for the Vikings in the second quarter, and then Peterson finally got going with a 46-yard run. Chargers safety Eric Weddle, who signed a $40 million contract in the summer, had an arm around Peterson's right foot at about the 40, but the running back broke free and raced to the 3. McNabb then threw a TD pass to Michael Jenkins for a 17-7 lead.
Rivers overthrew a wide-open Vincent Jackson on what would have been a sure touchdown pass late in the second quarter that would have made it 17-14. Rivers stood with his hands on his head after the play.
Before the game, both teams and the crowd marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 by observing a moment of silence, then listening to a live version of ''Taps'' beamed live from Arlington National Cemetery. A giant American flag, unfurled and held by sailors and Marines, covered the field as Colbie Caillat sang the national anthem. Chargers tight end Antonio Gates wore red-white-and-blue cleats and gloves.