In the season opener, the Arizona Cardinals defeated the San Diego Chargers 18-17.
The Chargers won the toss and per usual opted to defer. After converting a third down, the Cardinals offense had to punt as the defense buckled down by forcing three straight incompletions. The Bolts picked up their initial first down of the season on 3rd-and-4 as Philip Rivers connected with Antonio Gates for a gain of 12. A false start penalty backed up the offense, and on 3rd-and-10 Rivers’ attempt to number 85 was tipped in the air and fell incomplete. The Cardinals challenged that Rashad Johnson intercepted it, but the ruling was upheld and Mike Scifres booted a 52-yard bomb to the seven-yard line. Unfortunately, after a false start penalty Carson Palmer connected with Michael Floyd on a 63-yard completion into Chargers territory. Two plays later Marcus Gilchrist punched the ball out of the hands of Andre Ellington, but it was ruled the Cardinals’ Paul Fanaika had possession of it before Donald Butler ripped it away. Head Coach Mike McCoy challenged that it should be Bolts ball, and the call was reversed giving San Diego possession at its own 28. On 3rd-and-6, Rivers hit a crossing Eddie Royal who bolted to the Cardinals’ 48-yard line.
However, three plays later on 3rd-and-9 Royal was unable to haul in a short toss and they had to punt again with the ball crossing the end line for a touchback. After allowing a first down, it looked like the Bolts got off the field as on 3rd-and-4 with a great play by Jason Verrett, but the refs called Marcus Gilchrist with holding to keep the drive alive. Still, San Diego was able to get off the field with a trio of nice plays by Eric Weddle, Jason Verrett and Shareece Wright. A touchback gave Rivers the ball at the 20-yard line, and two Danny Woodhead rushes made it 3rd-and-4, but Royal was hit as the ball arrived. Scifres punted it away, and the Cardinals had the ball just shy of midfield as the quarter came to a close.
Ellington started the quarter with a strong 14-yard run for a first down. Michael Floyd caught a deep 29-yard pass up the right sideline, and roughing the passer call on Melvin Ingram made it 1st-and-10 at the 12. Three plays later on 3rd-and-2, Verrett had blanket coverage on John Brown to limit the damage to a field goal, so just over two minutes into the second quarter the Chargers trailed 3-0. On 3rd-and-1, Ryan Mathews barreled forward from the fullback position for a first down.
However, they had to punt after failing to convert on 3rd-and-14 shortly thereafter. Starting at it’s own 37, Arizona went three and out as Manti Te’o forced a Corey Liuget sack before Weddle brought Palmer down shy of first down. Second round pick Jerry Attaochuthen came up with the biggest play of the game to date with a blocked punt, and San Diego took over at the Cardinals 17-yard line. However, the Bolts had to settle for a field goal after going three-and-out, as Nick Novak connected from 36-yards out to knot the score at 3-3. After a pass interference call on Wright, the corner came up with a big stop at the sticks three plays later to force a punt. Starting at the 20-yard line, Mathews picked up two first downs, first with his legs and then through the air to bring San Diego to the 44-yard line at the two-minute warning. A screen pass to Woodhead followed by a 10-yards scramble by Rivers pushed the ball into Arizona territory. Two plays later on 3rd-and-7, Rivers and Royal weren’t on the same page and Jerraud Powers picked the ball off, returning it near midfield with 16 seconds left. Palmer hit Michael Floyd for 25-yards to the 26-yardline, setting up a Chandler Catanzaro 44-yard field goal as time expired to give the home team a 6-3 lead at half.
Rivers hit Gates over the middle for a 17-yard gain to kick off the second half.
Three plays later, Malcom Floydhauled in a perfect dime for a 32-yard gain to the Arizona 25-yard line. Ladarius Green then caught a 20-yard pass to set up 1st-and-goal, and two plays later Floyd caught a six-yard touchdown strike over the middle to give San Diego the 10-6 edge. A huge hit on the kickoff by Kavell Conner backed Arizona up at its own eight yard line to start the drive, and the Cardinals picked up a pair of first downs. But on 3rd-and-10, Attaochu sprinted around the edge for a strip-sack that Freeney recovered at the 29-yard line. The Bolts faced a 3rd-and-1, and Mathews showcased power and elusiveness, breaking a sure tackle on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run and a 17-6 lead with 5:26 to go in the quarter. Feeding off the energy, the defense forced an immediate three-and-out. However, the Chargers went three-and-out as well when Rivers couldn’t hit Gates over the middle on 3rd-and-2, and an unlucky bounce gave the Cards the ball at their own 35-yard line. They crossed midfield on a 16-yard reception on second down by Rob Housler, then an outlet to Ellington moved them to the 30-yard line at the end of the third quarter.
The Cardinals mixed playcalling well, and eventually it was 3rd-and-goal from the five. On the play, Palmer escaped pressure and scrambled to his right to find Stepfan Taylor in the end zone. Arizona went for the two-point conversion, but Richard Marshall snuffed out the direct snap to Jonathan Dwyer and San Diego led 17-12.
After the touchback, Mathews went up the left sideline for a gain of 11-yards. Two plays later, Rivers found Green up the middle for a short gain of four. A defensive holding penalty against Arizona negated a Rivers interception and gave the Bolts a new set of downs at their own 38. Rivers tossed a quick pass to Royal but the Cardinals sniffed the play out and tackled Royal in the backfield for a loss of three. An incomplete pass to Royal brought up a 3rd-and-13, but under duress, Rivers found Gates for a gain of 34-yards. In an effort to kill some clock, Rivers handed off to Woodhead for a pair of rushes to bring up a 3rd-and-8 but a fumbled snap led Rivers to quickly fall on the ball knocking his team out of field goal range. Scifres punted, and the Cardinals signaled fair catch at their own nine-yard line.
Palmer finally targeted Larry Fitzgerald but his short pass fell incomplete. A false start penalty backed Arizona up to their five-yard line but Palmer found Ginn for a short gain for four-yards. On a 3rd-and-10, a scamper by Palmer gave his team life with a new set of downs. On 1st-and-10, Palmer found Floyd for a gain of nine and on the next play, Ellington picked up a block and rushed for a gain of 18.
Under pressure, Palmers first down pass was incomplete, intended for Dwyer. On the next play, Fitzgerald had his first catch of the game, this one good for 22-yards and took the Cardinals into San Diego territory. After a one-yard run by Dwyer, Palmer throw an incomplete pass short right to stop the clock with 3:17 left in the game. Despite the Chargers bringing the blitz, Palmer found Floyd for a gain of 16-yards. On 1st-and-goal, Palmer found rookie receiver John Brown for a 13-yard touchdown and the Cardinals led 18-17. Arizona went for two and once again failed leaving it 18-17 in favor of Arizona.
With 2:25 left in the game, the Chargers took over on their 20. Rivers found Allen for a gain of 12 with quick catch-and-run to start the drive. Rivers found Gates for a gain of eight to take it down to the two minute warning. An incomplete pass on second down brought up a 3rd-and-2 but Rivers' pass was incomplete to Keenan Allen. With 1:53 left in the game, McCoy and the Bolts went for it on fourth down but Allen dropped Rivers' pass.
Arizona continued to run the ball to seal the game with Arizona handing the Chargers their first loss of the season.
The Bolts had a ton of momentum, up 17-6, when Arizona got the ball toward the end of the third quarter. On the first play of the drive, Carson Palmer threw deep and it appeared Marcus Gilchrist had the interception. Unfortunately, the safety bobbled it as it went through his hands. The Cardinals went on to end the drive with their first touchdown of the game to seize control and go on to win.
It was Over When…
With less than two minutes remaining, Philip Rivers’ pass on 4th-and-2 was batted down at the line of scrimmage. It looked like Keenan Allen was about to corral it for an exceptional catch regardless, but it fell just out of reach and the Cardinals took over and ran out the clock.
Play of the Game
All preseason long, Jerry Attaochu showed the speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to bring down the passer, but that changed in a big way Monday night. Early in the third quarter, the rookie sprinted past the edge and hit Carson Palmer as he threw, dislodging the ball. Dwight Freeney covered it up to give San Diego possession deep in Arizona territory.
Stats of the Game
The Chargers offense excelled at third down conversions and running the ball a year ago. They struggled in both areas in the season opener, converting only 6-of-15 (40%) and churning out just 52 yards on 24 attempts for an average of 2.2 yards per carry.
“Obviously we didn’t play well enough in the fourth quarter. Going up 17-6 and not finishing the game is what it comes down to. The game was on the line and we didn’t make enough football plays as a team in all phases of the game. We’ve got to coach better, play better, execute better. It’s a team loss but give (Arizona) credit.” – Head Coach Mike McCoy
“We’re going to figure out how we can get better and move on. It’s just about getting better week-to-week and that’s the name of the game. There’s going to be no perfect game, there’s always going to be mistakes and things we need to correct and this is one, unfortunately.” – Outside Linebacker Dwight Freeney
“It was a good experience. My first NFL game, definitely enjoyed it, but all I want to do is win. We fell short tonight.” – Cornerback Jason Verrett
“I just know…I could have made more plays to help. I left some plays out on the field I felt I could have gotten. We’ve got the best quarterback in the league, and I’ve just got to be there for him.” – Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd
Odds and Ends
Arizona outgained San Diego 403 to 290. Philip Rivers completed 21 of 36 passes for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The Cardinals recorded 22 first downs while the Chargers netted 15.
Antonio Gates paced the club in catches (six) and yards (81).
In his first regular season game since his scary injury last year, Malcom Floyd caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan Mathews led the team in rushing with 40 yards on 12 attempts.
Shareece Wright’s eight tackles were the most on the defense.
Inactives for the Chargers include: Jahleel Addae, Ryan Carrethers, Chris Davis, Dontrelle Inman, Ricardo Mathews, Branden Oliver, Tourek Williams.