The Cardinals got off to a fast start when LaRod Stephens-Howling brought back the opening kickoff 89 yards to the San Diego 8-yard line. It was just the beginning of a big night for Arizona's seventh-round pick, who also had 63-yard kickoff return and a nifty 9-yard run from scrimmage.
The Chargers defense responded with its back against the wall, keeping Arizona out of the end zone. Quentin Jammer broke up a slant pass intended for Anquan Boldin on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line to force Arizona to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Neil Rackers and a 3-0 lead.
QB Philip Rivers
The Chargers' offense answered with its own big play, as Philip Rivers found Legedu Naanee for a 49-yard connection on San Diego's first play from scrimmage. However, San Diego's offense stalled thanks in large part to Arizona's extremely effective blitz package. The Cards netted four sacks in the first four minutes of the game, which played a big role in San Diego punting on its first three possessions.
The Bolts got rolling in the second quarter, scoring on back-to-back possessions. The first strike came on a 5-yard TD run by Michael Bennett, set up by a 36-yard catch-and-run by Darren Sproles. The Chargers got the ball back 90 seconds later when SS Clinton Hart picked off QB Brian St. Pierre inside the end zone. The Chargers transformed the turnover into points, as Billy Volek directed a 12-play, 95-yard drive that ended in a 5-yard scoring strike to Naanee.
The second half featured little in the way of scoring, with both teams netting one field goal. Nate Kaeding drilled a 56-yard attempt for San Diego, while Rackers connected on a 48-yarder to round out the scoring.
Arizona threatened on its final drive of the game -- the only drive directed by former first-round pick Matt Leinart -- but the 13-play march ended with a turnover on downs when FS Paul Oliver broke up a fourth-and-3 pass intended for TE Leonard Pope.
--When the Cardinals' offensive starters were on the field, the game appeared to be played in "opposite land." Arizona, which finished with the NFC's worst rushing attack last season, ran at will but struggled through the air. San Diego, which finished with the AFC's worst pass defense in 2008, was solid against the pass but vulnerable against the run.
--Both teams fell victim to suspect personal-foul calls. Greg Toler, who led Arizona with seven tackles, was flagged for hitting Sproles late out of bounds in the second quarter, setting up Bennett's touchdown. On San Diego's side, undrafted rookie FS C.J. Spillman was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty when he delivered a punishing, textbook hit on Cardinals WR Early Doucet.
--Chargers QBs Rivers and Volek combined to go 11-of-14 for 182 yards and a TD. However, Rivers' night was tarnished after being sacked by Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Bryan Robinson and Victor Hobson.
--Antonio Cromartie made the play of the game when he stepped in front of WR Larry Fitzgerald to intercept a pass in the end zone with four minutes left in the first quarter. Cromartie took the ball back up the right sideline and nearly housed it before being pushed out of bounds by Kurt Warner.