There was an outsized focus on Josh Rosen's individual progress heading into his preseason debut, but if Saturday proved anything, it was this: Football is still a team game.
The Cardinals' rookie quarterback put up poor numbers in a 24-17 win over the Chargers, but some of that was due to inconsistency around him. Center Daniel Munyer had trouble snapping the ball in shotgun formations and the other offensive linemen didn't do much better in protection.
Rosen finished 6-of-13 for 41 yards, nearly throwing a pick-six and taking a delay of game penalty. But this one felt more like an incomplete grade than anything foreboding because the low snaps affected the offense's rhythm.
"It always throws you off a little bit, because you're trying to keep your eyes down the field and see the defense, but he has to make sure he can secure the football," coach Steve Wilks said. "We've got to do a much better job there, whoever is at the center position, of getting the ball back to him."
Rosen's best throw of the night was a 21-yard completion to tight end Gabe Holmes. His worst came on a quick read to his left, in which Chargers cornerback Desmond King jumped the route but dropped an interception.
"I thought I did some good things and some bad things," said Rosen, who downplayed the effect of the low snaps on his performance. "For the most part, I think it was a step in the right direction. The almost-pick-six goes into the 'bad' category."
The game was a back-and-forth affair that ended dramatically. Chargers quarterback Nic Shimonek scrambled toward the end zone on the final play of the game but was stopped two yards short by Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck as the clock ran out.
Even though it was only an exhibition matchup, Wilks was happy to begin his NFL head coaching career with a victory.
"If we're out in the dirt and we're playing marbles, I want to win," Wilks said. "I'm not going to apologize for a preseason win, as inconsistent and as sloppy as it may have been. It's a win, and it's a win at home, which we take pride in."
While the second-team offense had its hiccups, the starters looked smooth. Their lone drive started at the Los Angeles 45 after a 38-yard punt return from Christian Kirk. The second-round pick had only punter Drew Kaser to beat on the return but tripped on his own feet.
"I'm sure I'm going to hear about that a lot this next week," Kirk said.
Running back David Johnson, playing in his first game since last year's season-ending wrist injury, carried the ball two times for 28 yards on the opening drive. The Cardinals stalled near the goalline, but Wilks went for it on fourth-and-goal, and rookie running back Chase Edmonds somehow kept his legs churning long enough to plunge in for a two-yard score.
It was a light night for starting quarterback Sam Bradford, who completed his only pass attempt for six yards to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
The Cardinals' starting defense looked good, forcing a three-and-out on its opening series and allowing a field goal on its second. The Cardinals led 7-3 at halftime, and linebacker Jeremy Cash returned a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown to start the second half scoring. Cash later left the game on a cart with a knee injury. Wilks did not know its severity after the game.
Cornerback Bené Benwikere caused the fumble on Cash's score, and on Los Angeles' next possession, he deflected a pass that rookie undrafted safety A.J. Howard hauled in for an interception. Howard forced a fumble earlier in the contest but it was overturned because he was penalized for hitting a defenseless player.
"A.J. made some plays tonight," Wilks said.
The Chargers scored back-to-back touchdowns to take a 17-14 lead in the fourth, but the Cardinals scored the final 10 points to secure the win. Fourth string quarterback Charles Kanoff found tight end Bryce Williams for a 14-yard go-ahead touchdown with 10:06 remaining. On the Chargers' ensuing possession, defensive end Cap Capi's third sack of the game forced a fumble, which the Cardinals recovered and turned into a 28-yard Matt McCrane field goal for the final tally.
Kanoff had the best night among Cardinals quarterbacks, finishing 3-of-5 for 66 yards and a touchdown, including a 48-yard completion to rookie wideout Jalen Tolliver.
"We're looking for guys to step up, and guys to separate themselves," Wilks said. "Some guys did, and some guys didn't."
Images from the preseason opener on Saturday evening from University of Phoenix Stadium