Not the best of football games from both teams to end week 1 in the 2014 NFL season, but the bottom line was the San Diego Chargers, with some very shaky offense and performance from Philip Rivers, let a road win slip away from them as they botched up the ending, losing 18-17 to the Arizona Cardinals, getting quite the solid performance from Carson Palmer, not to mention a winning touchdown from rookie receiver John Brown.
The Cardinals went on a 91-yard drive that was capped off by Palmer finding Brown for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 2:25 left in the game. Rivers couldn’t march his team down the field for a game winning field goal, and he also had the chance, with the Chargers leading 17-12, to ensure an eight point lead. However, before the Cardinals went on their game winning drive, the Chargers botched up a play by snapping on the ball on Rivers’ body, leading to getting too far away from being in field goal range.
Any game in which Palmer doesn’t get sacked too much or throws an interception is great for the Cardinals, who have what might be the best defensive unit in the NFL. Palmer completed 24-of-37 passes for 304 yards and two touchdown passes, doing an excellent job in the fourth quarter, leading the Cardinals back from a 6-17 deficit, beginning with a 64-yard drive that ended with Stepfan Taylor rushing for a touchdown.
Things weren’t as smooth for Rivers who did throw a touchdown pass to Malcolm Floyd in the third quarter, but also threw an interception. He wasn’t sacked, but the Chargers offensive line struggled against the Arizona pass rush and overall run defense. The Cardinals allowed just 52 yards on the ground (40 for Ryan Mathews), the lowest rushing total for the Chargers since week 5 of last season. They had eight tackles for a loss and blitzed Rivers on 57% of his drop backs. Rivers was 2-of-9 when he was blitzed with a defensive back, which also really helped on that final drive.
Besides the problem of handling the blitz, the Chargers lose a season-opener despite leading in the fourth quarter for the second straight season. The Chargers are tied with the Detroit Lions for most blown leads in the fourth quarter since the beginning of the 2012 season, marking this as the fifth time it’s happened over the last two seasons and a game.
This wasn’t a game with big plays except for the two Floyds – Malcolm for the Chargers and especially Michael for the Cardinals, who caught five passes for 119 yards, including one for 63 yards. The Chargers didn’t get explosive plays from their receivers or tight ends, and Rivers focused more on Antonio Gates and the others, completing 66.7% of his passes to TEs compared with less than 47% when targeting wide receivers.
Offensive line issues have been a problem for the Chargers for quite some time, but last year the Chargers seemed to be pulling through them into the playoffs. The loss to the Cardinals was too much of the old San Diego team, with Rivers crumbling along with his teammates in the end. For the Cardinals this was squeaky on offense for most of the game, but with enough promising signs to feel optimistic about what happens next.