By Dave Thomas

The last game of the first week of the NFL season Monday evening brought fans a rematch of the preseason finale (San Diego won that field goal fest 12-9). Yes, field goals played a role in this game, too.

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Playing in the desert, the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals matched up in a battle of the AFC West versus the NFC West, with the home team escaping with an 18-17 win in Glendale.

With the Cardinals leading 6-3 going into the half, the two teams both looked like they were still in preseason mode in a number of different facets of the game.

When it came to the second half, San Diego wasted little time waking up, but it was Arizona that got the last laugh.

Chargers Look Like Different Second Half Team At Times

Down a field goal, the Chargers marched down the field and took the lead when QB Philip Rivers hooked up with Malcom Floyd on a six-yard touchdown pass. It wasn’t long after that the Bolts extended that lead to 17-6.

Arizona, looking to retake the lead, saw disaster strike when QB Carson Palmer was stripped of the ball by outside linebacker Jerry Attaochu. Fellow linebacker Dwight Freeney recovered the ball, allowing San Diego to set up on Arizona’s side of the field.

With a chance to take a strangle hold on the game, running back Ryan Mathews scored on a third-and-one run to make it a 10-point lead.

After the Cardinals trimmed the lead to 17-12 early in the fourth quarter on a five-yard TD pass from Palmer to Stepfan Taylor (two-point conversion failed), the Chargers blew an opportunity to at least notch a field goal. Rivers mishandled the snap from backup center Rich Ohrnberger (Nick Hardwick was injured earlier in the game), taking San Diego out of field goal range.

With less than four minutes remaining in the game, Palmer led the Cardinals down the field, connecting with John Brown on a 13-yard TD pass (two-point conversion failed) for an 18-17 lead. That was a lead, slim as it was, that would hold up and give Arizona a 1-0 start to the season.

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For the Chargers, yet another disappointing start to the season.

As Bolt fans know all too well, San Diego was cruising at home last season in the MNF opener against Houston, only to lose the game in the final minutes. That was a loss against a Texans squad that would ultimately go 2-14 in 2013.

While Arizona (10-6 a season ago) is certainly not the Texans of a year ago, they are a team that San Diego could have beaten on this late summer night in the desert.

As for the Chargers grades on the night:

Offense: C+

Where was the running game? San Diego managed a meager 52 yards net rushing on the evening (Mathews led the way with 40 yards on 12 carries). As has been noted before, a stat like that will be lucky to win you a high school game, let alone the top football league in the world. Chargers also dropped too many passes (especially a few in key situations). Tight end Antonio Gates had six catches for 81 yards, but 2013 rookie sensation Keenan Allen was held to a mere 37 yards receiving (five catches). Too many weapons on this San Diego offense to compile such mediocre numbers.

Defense: C+

Much like the Chargers offense, the ‘D’ was average at best. Yes, they held a dinged up Andre Ellington to 53 yards (13 carries) on the ground, but not being able to consistently pressure Palmer (304 yards passing, two TDs, two sacks) proved costly. While San Diego did harass the veteran QB at times, he also completed some key plays when needed to move the chains. If the Chargers are to have any chance this coming Sunday at home against defending Super Bowl champ Seattle, the defense will have to bring its ‘A’ game against Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, a team that scored 36 points in their season-opening win last Thursday against Green Bay.

For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.

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Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on