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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chargers dominate Cowboys in preseason opener

By Kevin Acee (San Diego Tribune) :

If the Dallas Cowboys play their second-team defense when these teams meet in Super Bowl XLIII, the Chargers will kill them.
Or, failing that, if the Chargers find themselves facing a third-string Cowboys punt returner and really old backup quarterback, maybe the Chargers will just force turnover after turnover.
Many believe the Chargers and Cowboys could meet again in Tampa in February. If so, the teams will look a little different than they did during last night's 31-17 Chargers victory in both teams' preseason opener.
“It's hard to take something from that,” Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips said. “We didn't get to play for four quarters.”
The good stuff:
Third-round draft pick Jacob Hester scored two touchdowns and ran over a few people. First-round pick Antoine Cason broke up a third-down pass to end his first series. Second-year linebacker Jyles Tucker was everywhere.
Philip Rivers was as strong as he has been all training camp, and just as he did last season, Chris Chambers had something to do with that. Rookie fullback Mike Tolbert blocked on a Hester touchdown and then scored one himself. Quentin Jammer intercepted a pass. The Chargers starters eventually tackled well.
And players said that everything went smoothly, in stark contrast to Norv Turner's first preseason. “The communication was good, the chemistry was good,” Phillips said. “That's a good start.”
There was a little to at least be concerned about at the beginning.
The Chargers' offensive line – minus injured Marcus McNeill and with Jeremy Newberry making his first start in place of Nick Hardwick at center – was ineffective against Dallas' first team defense. And with a couple cutbacks, the Cowboys ballcarriers had linebackers overpursuing and having flashbacks of Adrian Peterson.
But what the Chargers' first unit and then their subs did to the Cowboys' reserves made it easy to overlook, for a night, the game's uninspiring start.
The reality was, on Dallas' first series, with starters from both teams in, the Cowboys rammed it down the Chargers' throats.
“Defense was good,” Jammer said. “We started off slow, but we started to come along once we warmed up. This is our first preseason game, so of course it's going to be a little rusty.”
The first quarter of this preseason looked a little like that final quarter in the AFC Championship Game. With both teams playing a basic scheme, the Cowboys drove 54 yards on eight plays, 26 unspectacular yards coming on the ground, to go up 7-0.
Meanwhile, the Chargers' first two drives, sans LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, were fitful, even backward.
Then the takeaways came, just as they did last season when the Chargers led the NFL with 48 of them. And, also just like 2007, special teams had a lot to do with the Chargers' success.
With 5½ minutes remaining in the first quarter, Danny Amendola fielded Mike Scifres' second punt at the 23 and ran seven yards before Paul Oliver jarred the ball from his grasp and Brandon Siler fell on the ball in a pile.
The league's leading takeaway team in 2007 got the ball back at the 31. Four plays later, the game was tied.
One play after he almost got in from the 3-yard line, Hester bulled through from the 1 behind a block from Tolbert.
The Cowboys, by then quarterbacked by Brad Johnson in place of starter Tony Romo, took over at their 18 and were driving until Tucker chased Johnson into a throw directly at Jammer, who intercepted the pass and returned it 11 yards to the Chargers' 45-yard line.
A 21-yard Chambers reception, a 21-yard gain by Darren Sproles off a screen, a 4-yard Hester run and a 4-yard penalty led to a 5-yard Sproles run into the end zone.
That quick, it was 14-7.
“You start out with a three-and-out and obviously you want to get it going early,” said Rivers, who left the game at that point, having completed 5-of-6 passes for 54 yards. “We bounced right back and got the ball in the end zone twice. Preseason, you want to get it going early. You want to protect the football, which we did.”
Clearly the deeper team, the Chargers were up 24-10 at halftime and 31-10 some 6½ minutes into the third quarter.
“We worked out there,” free safety Eric Weddle said. “No matter who you're going against, you have to work. They caught us early doing quick, short passes. We battled back, got out of that. We did a lot of good things.”