GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Ryan Mathews is off and running this preseason, while Jonathan Cooper’s season could be over before it really began.
Mathews, slowed by two broken collarbones a year ago, carried 14 times for 57 yards and a touchdown as the Chargers beat the mistake-prone Cardinals 24-7 for their first preseason victory under new coach Mike McCoy. Mathews did fumble the ball at the Arizona goal line, but even that play turned in to a San Diego touchdown.
The Cardinals lost several players due to injury, including left guard Jonathan Cooper, the team’s first-round pick who broke his left leg and was helped off the field in the third quarter.
“We don’t know if it’ll be the season or if he’ll get to return,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, “Right now it’s looking like the season.”
Arizona’s Rashard Mendenhall carried six times for 47 yards before leaving with an apparently minor ankle injury.
The Chargers blocked a punt, blocked a field goal and returned a fumble for a touchdown — all in the first half.
“We talk about being a smart football team,” Arians said, “and that’s probably the dumbest 30 minutes of football that I’ve ever seen.”
Philip Rivers completed 10 of 18 passes for 71 yards with an interception, while the Cardinals’ Carson Palmer was 12 of 23 for 122 yards and a TD.
“This is the way we like to play week in and week out, with all three phases making plays and doing their job to the best of their ability,” McCoy said.
Arizona’s problems began at the end of its first possession, when Darrell Stuckey blocked Dave Zastudil’s punt and the Chargers recovered at the Cardinals’ 34. But a false start penalty pushed San Diego back, and Nick Novak’s 51-yard field goal try was no good.
After a Cardinals three-and-out, the Chargers went 92 yards in 12 plays, using up 6:51 of the first quarter. Mathews dived over the middle into the end zone for the first points allowed by Arizona’s first-team defense in the preseason. The drive featured an unnecessary roughness penalty against the Cardinals’ Ronald Talley.
Early in the second quarter, Arizona rookie Tyrann Mathieu hit Rivers’ arm as he threw, and the ball popped into the air. Jasper Brinkley intercepted and lateraled to Patrick Peterson, giving the Cardinals the ball at their 47. The Cards drove to the Chargers’ 8-yard line, but on third-and-goal, an open Rob Housler dropped Palmer’s pass in the back of the end zone. Kwame Geathers then blocked Dan Carpenter’s 26-yard field-goal try.
The wild second touchdown came a short time later. The third pass interference penalty of the game against Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers put the ball at the Cardinals’ 1. Mathews went over the middle on a handoff, but the ball popped free. Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson picked it up near the right hash but, in an ill-advised move, lateraled to Sam Acho. Acho was hit by Antonio Gates as he tried to bring the ball in, and it again popped into the air. Another San Diego tight end, John Phillips, grabbed it and returned it 3 yards for the score to make it 14-0.
“It’s not the conventional way to score,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a play like that in a long time.”
A challenge by McCoy backfired and set up the Cardinals’ lone touchdown. Palmer threw over the middle to Andre Roberts, who lost the ball as he was being brought down shortly after the catch on what was called an incompletion. But McCoy challenged that it was a fumble, and indeed it was. However, officials ruled that Roberts, not the Chargers, recovered at the San Diego 16. On the next play, Palmer threw to Michael Floyd, who made an excellent catch while dragging his feet in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
The Chargers also scored on Fozzy Whittaker’s 5-yard run and Novak’s 50-yard field goal.
Cooper, the seventh pick overall out of North Carolina, had been a starter virtually since he arrived in Arizona. He was injured when his ankle was rolled up on from behind on a running play.
“You just feel sorry for him, being a rookie and this only being his third preseason game,” teammate Larry Fitzgerald said. “He’s a big part of who we’re going to be and our identity moving forward, not only for this year but for years to come. You feel really bad for him.”
Ken Whisenhunt, fired as Cardinals head coach after last season, returned to University of Phoenix Stadium as Chargers offensive coordinator.
Other injuries included:
— Cardinals NT Dan Williams hurt his right ankle on the double-fumble touchdown play and did not return. He was out earlier in camp with knee and ankle injuries.
— Chargers CB Johnny Patrick left in the first half with a concussion.
— Housler also left the game with a right ankle injury.