Room for improvement in Cardinals’ season-opening win

Stepfan Taylor, left, and John Brown celebrate Taylor's fourth-quarter touchdown Monday night against the Chargers.

Bruce Yeung

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Lyle Sendlein drew on eight seasons of NFL wisdom when summing up the Cardinals’ disjointed season opener.

"It’s not like you draw it up, but it wouldn’t be an NFL game without a little adversity," Sendlein said of Monday night’s 18-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers at University of Phoenix Stadium. "Around here, big, prime-time games haven’t gone our way so for us to fight back like that, it’s something to be proud of — at least until I watch the film." 

There will be plenty to dissect in the Cardinals offensive meeting rooms on Wednesday. There were dropped passes, critical penalties and two critical fumbles.

Running back Andre Ellington (18 touches, 80 yards) was effective and spearheaded a run game that produced 109 yards and a 4.2-yard average, but he was not the dynamic force the Cardinals hope he will be when his foot injury fully heals.

Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was nowhere to be found — in the game or in the locker room afterward — catching a meager one pass to extend his consecutive receptions streak to an NFL-leading 150 games.

And most importantly, there were only six points on the board for the home team when the fourth quarter began with San Diego leading by 11 — not the kind of performance the Cardinals were hoping for on a night when they inducted Kurt Warner into the Ring of Honor.

Cardianals 18, Chargers 17

"It wasn’t the prettiest game," coach Bruce Arians said.

With so many offseason and preseason losses on the defensive side, the belief was the offense would have to carry the team while it felt its way through personnel changes. That wasn’t the case on Monday.

Save for a long drive in the third quarter that gave the Chargers their largest lead, the defense, spearheaded by veteran linebacker Larry Foote, overcame the in-game losses of Frostee Rucker (calf) and John Abraham (concussion protocol) to control an elite offense and keep Arizona in position for the win.

"(Defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles has done a great job," Arians said. "He puts the guys in a position to be successful. We had some guys out there against some All-Pro guys, and they were hanging in there and doing extremely well."

The offense finally thanked them with a pair of touchdown drives in the fourth-quarter. Running back Stepfan Taylor caught a 5-yard TD pass to cut the Chargers’ lead to 17-12, and rookie John Brown caught his first career TD with 2:32 left in the game on a screen that Arizona executed perfectly. 

"I don’t think anybody was surprised," said quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 304 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. "It’s just good for our offense to get that confidence and get that drive." 

For a team that had gone 6-15-1 in its 22 previous Monday night appearances, the result was all that mattered.

"I’ve been a part of a few teams that would have folded in that situation," Sendlein said. "Carson’s still walking so I guess we did all right." 

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