The Cardinals' offense was efficient for a second straight game during Saturday night's 33-31 loss to the Chargers.
Ken Whisenhunt's reputation coming from Pittsburgh was as a creative offensive mind.
Through three games of the preseason, his Cardinals look to be developing in his image.
"This is a big-play offense," quarterback Matt Leinart said, "and we showed we can make a lot of big plays."
The Cardinals may need those big plays. Saturday night, the Chargers were equally efficient offensively as they beat the Cards, 33-31, in front of 64,216 at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cards totaled 375 yards of offense, but the Chargers ended up with 506, leading to a game-winning Nate Kaeding 37-yard field goal with two seconds left.
Still, Whisenhunt said he was not concerned about his defense, noting the Chargers have one of the best offenses in the NFL and that the first-team Cardinal defenders – who were blitzing for the first time in the preseason – did twice hold in the red zone, once getting a turnover and once giving up a field goal.
The Cards almost survived an excellent game from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who completed 20-of-29 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns in 2 ½ quarters.
"What I found out about our defense is they never gave up," Whisenhunt said.
Neither did the offense, especially when Leinart was forced to move around.
Twice Leinart made huge passes while scrambling in the pocket. The first came after the Cards had gained just two yards of offense on their first five plays. Leinart danced around before finding Anquan Boldin, who had leaked past the secondary, in stride for an 80-yard touchdown pass.
He made a similar play later, hitting Bryant Johnson for a 41-yard gain.
"That's the great thing about him, when everything starts to break down, he is calm and collected," Boldin said. "He is able to move around in the pocket and get the ball to open receivers."
Leinart said a defense questioning whether the quarterback will run can only help the offense.
"I am obviously not a running quarterback, but any quarterback who can make plays on the run, it makes it harder on the defense," Leinart said. "It's not my game, but to make the plays outside the pocket it was good."
Leinart was 10-of-16 for 196 yards and the Boldin touchdown, and he should have had two more completions. Johnson had a 47-yard reception get away from him when he hit the ground (the play was originally called complete before being overturned) and Sean Morey dropped what would have been about a 10-yard catch.
"Matt started off slow, and I was a little upset with him," said Whisenhunt, adding that Leinart slipped back into his faulty footwork habits. "But he responded."
The Cardials didn't run the ball well, but they did convert a rushing touchdown when Marcel Shipp ran in a four-yard score on third-and-goal.
"That was a confidence-builder," Shipp said. "We are almost where we need to be as far as the run game. But we see the progress. I go into the game knowing there will be holes there, as opposed to the past."
The Cardinals took the lead late when third-string quarterback Shane Boyd lobbed a five-yard fade touchdown pass to 6-foot-6 rookie receiver Matt Trannon with just over a minute left.
But Chargers veteran backup quarterback Billy Volek led San Diego (2-1) down the field to make Kaeding the hero.
It's the preseason though, and the fourth quarter doesn't mean as much as the first half – and for the Cards, on this night, that was enough.
"We wanted to come out and make a statement," Boldin said. "Everybody around the league knows the third preseason game is like a dress rehearsal so we wanted to come out and show everybody what we were capable of."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org