GLENDALE, Ariz. – Many wondered what Kyler Murray would do in his NFL debut heading into Thursday’s preseason opener between the Cardinals and Chargers at State Farm Stadium.
A handful of starters on the Chargers’ defense – which is projected to be one of the NFL’s best this season – didn’t play, but that didn’t diminish the intrigue for Murray, the quarterback whom the Cardinals took with the first overall pick in April’s draft.
Murray had Arizona’s and much of the football-watching public’s attention on a night with 11 NFL exhibition games scheduled. But for the Chargers, at least some of the focus was on a player who was absent.
What would the Chargers do without star running back Melvin Gordon? The results were mostly positive, with the team rushing for 88 yards before most of the offensive starters were pulled midway through the second quarter.
Running back Austin Ekeler rushed for 40 of those yards, but had a costly fumble on the Cardinals’ 2-yard line during the opening drive. There could be a case made that the rushing stats and the turnover cancel each other out. No one won Thursday at the negotiating table between the Chargers and Gordon, who’s holding out for a lucrative extension.
But on the field, the Cardinals beat the Chargers 17-13 on a night that saw Murray go 6 of 7 for 44 yards and a passer rating of 92.9. Former UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was 10 of 14 passing for the Cardinals for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Murray didn’t lead the Cardinals into the end zone, but controlled the offense with poise and operated with speed, similar to what he did last season for the University of Oklahoma to win the Heisman Trophy.
“I thought it was smooth,” Murray said. “I was anxious to get out there, move around and throw it a little bit. I really just tried to execute whatever coach called, and I think we did for the most part.”
With quarterback Philip Rivers watching from the sidelines in shorts and a ball cap, former Buffalo Bill Tyrod Taylor got the start for his Chargers debut.
Taylor marched the offense into the red zone for his two drives, the second ending on a four-yard touchdown run from running back Justin Jackson. The first drive ended on Ekeler’s fumble. Taylor went 6 of 6 for 72 yards and added 34 rushing yards.
“I thought the offense was real efficient with Tyrod,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “He’s a luxury to have on this football team. He’s a starter in this league. It didn’t surprise me at all for him to move the ball down the field.”
Despite the turnover, Ekeler had a productive outing, with three catches for 29 yards to go along with his 40 rushing yards. It was clear that the Chargers plan to use him often during Gordon’s holdout, which appears likely to drag throughout the preseason.
“As long as he learned from the fumble,” Lynn said. “Yeah, looking at the stat sheet, he had a really good night. But that’s just something you don’t like to see at the 2-yard line.”
Among the other absent starters for the Chargers was left tackle Russell Okung, who has been sidelined since suffering a pulmonary embolism in June. Starting center Mike Pouncey was given the night off as the Chargers trotted out a vastly different offensive line than the one they ended with last season.
Trent Scott filled in at left tackle with Forrest Lamp at left guard, Dan Feeney at center, Michael Schofield at right guard and Sam Tevi at right tackle. Feeney played guard last year, but could now become the backup center with Lamp having a healthy and productive summer.
“For me, being a young tackle coming out,” Scott said, “(to) go against some good guys like Terrell Suggs, it was good reps.”
Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen didn’t play. Lynn said Allen didn’t travel with the team, but didn’t explain why. With Allen out, Mike Williams took the lead role and made an impressive 28-yard grab for his lone catch against the Cardinals.
Tight end Hunter Henry recorded two catches for 15 yards. The Chargers have said Henry is at 100 percent from the torn ACL that cost him the entire 2018 regular season, and backed that up by having him play in a preseason game.
Defensive linemen Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram and Brandon Mebane also didn’t suit up. Kyzir White starting at middle linebacker, not Denzel Perryman, was a notable surprise.
Rookie Easton Stick, who rushed for a 31-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, got the edge over Cardale Jones in the battle for the No. 3 quarterback position on the depth chart. Stick had one pass intercepted, but finished 7 of 11 for 78 yards in addition to his scrambling touchdown.
RUN, EASTON, RUN. pic.twitter.com/SMWYOnVtII
— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) August 9, 2019
— NFL (@NFL) August 9, 2019