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The Setup
We opened on a Monday night, and the players were stoked about the opportunity to play on the national stage. Last season, every loss was magnified because we were competing with the Seahawks and Niners in the NFC West. (and 10 wins weren't enough to qualify us for the playoffs). This made grabbing a "W" any way possible all the more important. All within the context of uncharacteristic "northeastern" weather marked by flash floods stemming from record-setting rainfall and (at least from the perspective of my TV screen) an "in the fox hole" vibe from the capacity crowd you'd be more likely to witness at a Giant, Raven or Eagle game. Add to this the late pickup of Drew Butler to do the punting in place of the injured Zastudil, adding an even more surreal aspect to the game.

The Lede
Cards Sneak Past Chargers in Home Opener.

The Bottom Line:
The Cards overcame sloppy play in the first half and a letdown in the third quarter to come from behind and pull ahead late in the fourth quarter and then hang on to preserve the one-point "W." Both teams looked a bit rusty. From a Cardinals standpoint - ball protection was a bit sloppy. Pass blocking (especially on the part of our TE's) could have been better. While we weren't perfect defending against throws to the two stellar Charger TE's (Gates and Green), they didn't overwhelm us either. The run defense looked as good if not better than last year's version. And most impressive was the way our defensive unit "shut off the faucet when we needed to stop the Chargers in their tracks.

John Brown was as advertised. Floyd came up big. This was one of those games where Fitz didn't see the ball very often, but that's OK - his very presence opened up opportunities for other open receivers, and there will no doubt be other games where he'll rack up impressive numbers. (Moral: The only truly important number right now is our W & L record. We won this one).

Game Recap

1st Quarter
  • Ginn fielded the opening KO in the end zone and managed to return it to the Card 15. A 20-yard completion to Carlson helped moved the chains, but that's all Palmer & Co. could manage and we punted from the 35. Royal was pushed out of bounds at the Charger 22. Rivers predictably focused on getting the ball to their TE (Gates) and managed to pick up a first down, but the drive fizzled when Gates couldn't hang onto a long throw by Rivers (Play was challenged but ruling was upheld. Man! Those challenges really slow down a game!).

  • Cards downed the punt on our 8 and a penalty on Veldheer moved us back to our 4. On the very next play, Palmer faded back into his end zone and connected deep down the middle to Floyd for 63 yards. Two plays later, what looked to be a 3-yard run by Ellington was challenged and ruled a fumble recovered by San Diego.

  • Chargers took over on their own 28 and picked up a first down on a 20-yard throw to Royal; but the drive fizzled and SD punted. Touchback. A 16-yard completion to John Brown was the only significant play of the Card possession. Butler punted from the Cardinal 47. Ball rolled into the end zone for a TB. We held the Chargers to 3 & out and ran one final play before the quarter ended. (we got us a "pitchers' duel"). .First Quarter Score: Cards 0 - Chargers 0.

2nd Quarter
  • Quarter started 2nd-down at our own 35. Palmer hit Floyd for 29 and a roughing the passer flag was tacked on. We got as close as the SD 4, but had to settle for a 22-yard Catanzaro FG.On the second play of the quarter, Novak's FG attempt was good from 39. Cards 3 - Chargers 0.

  • TB on the KO. Rivers was able to pick up on 1st down and peck his way to the Charger 30, but we forced them to punt. Ginn fair caught the punt at our own 33. A sack of Palmer (by Luiget) forced us into a 3 & out. (Note - our two TE's (Carlson and Housler) were responsible for allowing two 2nd quarter sacks). Butler's punt was blocked and SD recovered at the Cardinal 17. But the Cardinal defense stiffened and we held them to a 36-yard Novak FG. Chargers 3 - Cards 3.

  • Ginn once again fielded the KO in his own end zone but only managed to bring it out to the Card 15. Despite a pass interference on a deep incompletion to Floyd, a fairly conservative series of play calling got us nowhere and Butler's punt from his own 39 skipped into the end zone. 3:22 till halftime. Rivers managed to nickel and dime his offense to the Cardinal 36 in 8 plays, but on the ninth, his pass intended for Royal was picked off by Powers and returned to our 44. 0:16 second left. Palmer connected with Ellington for five yards and then hit Ginn deep for +25 to enable Catanzaro to boot home his second FG to end the half. Halftime Score: Cards 6 Chargers 3 - .

3rd Quarter
  • TB on the KO. Completions from Rivers to Gates (for +17), M Floyd (for +7 and +25) and another TE (Green) for +20 helped set up a 6-yard TD pass up the middle to M Floyd to give SD the lead. . Chargers 10 - Cards 6.

  • Ginn once again fielded the KO in the end zone but only managed to bring it out to the 8-yard line. Palmer short-passed his way to the Cardinal 33, but was sacked by Attaochu with the ball recovered by Freeney. Charger ball on the Card 29. Three plays later, Matthews ran off left tackle (against a sucked-in Cardinal run defense) and ran it in from 20. Chargers 17 - Cards 9.

  • TB on the KO. A false start flag on Massie helped put us into a 3 & out. Scifres' punt went out of bounds at the CArdinal 36. After an initial incompletion, Palmer hit Housler for +16, Ellington picked up 7-yards up the middle and then turned a short right completion into an 11-yard gain. before losing a yard on an attempt to circle right-end as the quarter ended. . Third Quarter Score: Chargers 17 - Cards 9.

4th Quarter
  • 2nd & 11 at the SD 31. We gained 5-yards on a defensive holding penalty, Taylor gained +5 up the middle, Palmer hit Taylor short up the middle for +11 and again on a short-right completion for another +5 and (after an incompletion to Fitz) was forced to roll right before hitting Taylor (once again!) at the right edge of the end zone for a 5-yard TD. Two-point conversion was unsuccessfull. Chargers 17 - Cards 12.

  • Plenty of time (12:30) left. TB on the KO. Rivers moved his team methodically down the field inn 10 plays (eating up 4:56) into field goal territory at the Cardinal 29, but an aborted snap by their backup center cost the Chargers 14 yards (El Sav-o Our Butts-O)! After a false start flag on Larsen, the Cards picked up positive yardage on four straight plays:a short pass to Ginn for +4, a 12-yard scramble out of bounds, a short pass to Floyd for +9 and Ellington up the middle for +18. A 22-yard completion to Fitz and a 16-yard hookup with Floyd brought us to the Charger 13 and set up a dazzling catch & run by John Borwon on an inside-screen for the game winning touchdown. XP attempt failed but the Cards had moved ahead 18 - 17 with 2:25 left on the clock.It was a heckuva drive - 91-yards in 11 plays eating up 4:25 at a crucial point in the game when we needed it. Cards 18- Chargers 17.

  • TB on the KO. After completons for _12 and +8, the ardinal defense stiffened and, with 1:53 still left to play, Rivers pass over the middle was deflected by Larry Foote and bounced incomplete off the hands of Keenan Allen. Cards took over at the Charger 40 and a 7-yard run up the middle by Dwyer picked up the final first down that iced it. Final Score: Cards 18 - Chargers

Game Stats

  • Passing Efficiency. Palmer was 24 for 37, 304 yards, 2 TD's and no interceptions.

  • Run Game: Cards ran the ball 26 times for 109 yards. Ellington carried 13 times for 53 yards.

  • Receiving: Floyd was the Big Dawg with 119 yards (one for +63) on 5 catches. Ellington caught 5 for 27 yards. Taylor caught 3 for 21 yards and a TD. John Brown had 2 catches - but one a "work of art" for a TD.
  • Defense: They ran for 52 net yards (on 24 carries) and 238 net passing yards. Rivers completed 21 of 36 passing attempts for 238 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception.

  • Run/Pass Ratio: 26 runs/37 passes.

  • Sacks: Palmer was sacked 2 times. We never got to Rivers

  • Leading Tacklers: Foote and Jefferson led the team in tackles with 8.

  • Field Goals: Catanzaro was 2 for 2.

  • Turnover Ratio: -1. We lost two fumbles (Elligton and Palmer) and gave up no picks. We didn't recover any fumbles but we had that one interception by Powers

  • Penalties: 5 for 43 yards (SD was flagged 11 times for 114).

  • 3rd Down Efficiency: 6 for 13 (46%). By contrast, SD was 6 for 15 (40%)

  • Time of Possession: Us - 31:49/Them - 28:11

Bright Spots

  • We posted a "W", competing in a division where every win is precious (and every loss a coffin-nail).

  • We came from behind, pulled ahead and hung on to secure the win.

  • The final Cardinal TD drive was for 91-yards at crunch-time.

  • "Old Man Palmer's" ability to extend plays.

  • Stepfon Taylor's role on that final TD drive.Carson had a surprising 10 tackles.

  • Catanzaro's KO's were majestic.

  • John Brown's TD run on that inside screen.

  • Larry Foote playied as energetic as a young rookie.

  • The way the defense bailed out our offense each time we turned over the ball.

  • The defense only gave up one TD. (I bet they're not happy about even giving up one and will review the tape of the Matthews run over and over).

  • Mathis didn't play yet our secondary still looked awfully good.

  • Improved coverage vs. TE's (though there's still room for improvement).

The Dark Side

  • Pass (& punt) pro still needs cleaning up. (Our two TE's - Carlson and Housler each surrendered a sack on what looked to be solo blocking assignments. Even discounting the blocked punt, our punt blocking looked a bit shaky).

  • Carson Palmer looked a bit shaky under pressure early in the game.

  • Ball protection (Andre!!!).

  • Our pass rushers never got to Rivers.

  • Sorry to nitpick, but it seemed as if - on most if not every big play involving a one-on-one dual between one of our guys and one of their guys - their guys won the one-on-one battles whether it be diving on a loose ball, going after a contested pass or battling for the final inches needed to gain (or not give up) a first down. I don't think it was for lack of effort - maybe their guys were simply working just a wee bit harder in the weight room.

Last Word:
We won. (Wheww!). We came back from behind to do it. No major injuries (we're aware of). We did it without a key defender (Mathieu) and punter (Zastudil) and our top draft choice from a year ago spending a lot of time on the bench. Despite the loss of Dockett, Dansby, Washington, Honey Badger etc., there didn't seem to be any drop off in defensive production. There didn't seem to be any holes in our game that can't be cleaned up between games. Until we play the Niners and the Seahawks, it will be hard to gauge exactly where we are in the pecking-order talent-wise. But it could very well turn out that our biggest challenge will be to stay focused on the next game ahead, keep our nose to the grindstone and not get too far ahead of ourselves. Good first step. Next, there's the Giants!
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Copyright 1996 Gollin & Associates. Last modified: 11/26/2012