It was as if Keenan McCardell had been playing with the team since the dawn of time. Not only did he lead all Charger receivers in yards, he also led them in yards per reception (13.0) and was instrumental in engineering the first points San Diego would get on the day.
McCardell followed two Antonio Gates receptions with a 23 yard reception that put the ball down on the Carolina 28. It was the longest reception by either team on the day. He then followed it up with an 18 yard reception to setup first and goal.
LaDainian Tomlinson ran it from eight yards out on the next play.
"Maybe the fact that he is a 13 year vet, maybe the fact that he is a very good player and has a feel for the game, but he stepped in – I just feel like I know what he is going to do out there," quarterback Drew Brees said of his newest receiver. "I feel like I can read his body language and that is awesome."
McCardell also got called for a false start penalty in the second quarter but that was his lone mishap of the day. His first catch netted negative yardage but he quickly bounced back. He was targeted nine times on the day by Brees.
That tied Gates for the most times targeted on the day. McCardell caught five of those passes while Gates hauled in seven. McCardell also drew a phantom pass interference call that pushed the ball 44 yards down the field.
"It is amazing he was able to come in on such a short workload and be able to make the contribution he made," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
Think about it. McCardell was around long enough to see two and a half practices and one and a half of those happened to come on the first two rainy days of the year.
Yet there was McCardell showing a rapport with his quarterback and finding ways to make his presence felt on the field.
That is what a Pro Bowl wide receiver can bring to the offense. The running game struggled in the first half and most of game. After McCardell caught two passes on the touchdown drive, Tomlinson carried the ball nine times for 37 yards and Jesse Chatman gained 69 yards on eight carries.
Turns out the passing game can open up the running game – considering they had just ten yards rushing until that point.
McCardell pointed back to Brees for his ability to get him the ball. A receiver praising his quarterback – novel indeed.
"You have to give Drew a lot of credit," McCardell said. "Drew was on time with everything. He was right on the money."
He called his own play "ok" but it was more than that. He was a threat on the field – but tomorrow he could be asking for a day off.
"I will probably be feeling it tomorrow," he admitted.
What is obvious is McCardell makes this Chargers team a lot tougher to defend. When one are of the game is ailing, as was the case on Sunday, they can lean on other parts and still complete the job.
"Keenan is going to help this team," smiling linebacker Randall Godfrey said. "It's a plus."
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