In the flash of an Andre Coleman kickoff return, the San Diego Chargers found the spark to burn Buddy Ball.
San Diego’s dynamic return specialist ran back the second-half kickoff 92 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, the middle score of a 21-point burst that gave the Chargers a 28-25 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.
At once stifled and aided by Buddy Ryan’s aggressive “46” defense, the Chargers scored three times in a stretch of 6 minutes, 18 seconds spanning halftime. The defending AFC champion Chargers (7-7) won their third straight game to remain in playoff contention, and reached .500 for the first time since Oct. 22. Arizona fell to 4-10.
Like he did last year as a rookie, Coleman gave the Chargers a boost with a brilliant return that put San Diego ahead 21-14. He caught the ball at the Arizona 8, cut left at the 30 and streaked up the sideline, pointing to the crowd as he crossed the goal line. Jerry Drake, who knocked Coleman off his feet on an earlier return, was the only Cardinal to lay a hand on him.
Coleman had three kickoff returns for touchdowns as a rookie, including one in the Super Bowl. He’s scored on two kickoff returns and one punt return this year.
Receiver Mark Seay kept the momentum on San Diego’s side when he burned the Cardinals on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Stan Humphries, his second of the day, for a 28-14 lead. Seay, covered by linebacker Terry Irving, wasn’t touched on the play and got a nice block from wideout Shawn Jefferson.
The Chargers won despite committing a season-high five turnovers, including four interceptions by Humphries. But Humphries completed 26 of 41 for 288 yards, including seven to Seay for 114 yards.
The Cardinals got 17 points off turnovers, including Clyde Simmons’ 25-yard interception return. A fake field goal by the Chargers set up Arizona’s final score, a 12-yard pass from Dave Krieg to Stevie Anderson with 1:43 to play. Krieg and Anderson hooked up on the conversion pass to make it 28-25. San Diego’s Junior Seau covered the onside kick.
Krieg was 24 of 40 for 283 yards and two TDs. San Diego’s Leslie O’Neal and Shawn Lee each had two sacks.
Arizona’s defense was both brilliant and porous in a wild 28-point second quarter.
Simmons, the right end, stunned the Chargers and the Jack Murphy Stadium crowd of 55,258 on his 25-yard interception return for Arizona’s only lead, 14-7 with 2:21 before halftime.
Simmons played volleyball with the pass, leaping to deflect it with one hand, then hauling it in. Holding the ball in his outstretched right hand, he shoved the 223-pound Humphries aside as he went in to score the fourth TD of his 10-year career.
Seemingly unfazed, Humphries threw on every down of a 12-play, 89-yard drive, completing seven. The Cardinals didn’t cover Ronnie Harmon coming out of the backfield on second-and-goal, and he caught a 3-yard pass in the right flat to tie the score at 14-14 with 37 seconds left before halftime.
The drive nearly fell apart when Humphries threw three straight passes incomplete into the end zone from the Arizona 38. Jefferson dropped one pass and then was overthrown, then Tony Martin dropped one. Seay saved the drive with a 23-yard reception to the Arizona 15 on fourth-and-10.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Chargers caught the Cardinals in a safety blitz, and Seay was wide open in the middle for a 3-yard TD catch that made it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Seth Joyner forced San Diego’s first turnover, a fumble by receiver Martin after an 8-yard catch, and Aeneas Williams recovered at the San Diego 40. Four plays later, fullback Larry Centers caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Krieg, beating Seau in the process, for a 7-7 tie. Ironically, Martin hit the 1,000-yard receiving mark on the fumble play.
Running back Natrone Means missed his fifth straight start with a strained groin.
Chargers 28, Cardinals 25
Arizona 0 14 3 8 - 25
San Diego 0 14 14 0 - 28
SD-Seay 15 pass from Humphries (Carney kick), 1:52.
Ari-Centers 22 pass from Krieg (G.Davis kick), 7:47.
Ari-Simmons 25 interception return (G.Davis kick), 12:39.
SD-Harmon 3 pass from Humphries (Carney kick), 14:23.
SD-Coleman 92 kickoff return (Carney kick), :15.
SD-Seay 38 pass from Humphries (Carney kick), 5:41.
Ari-FG G.Davis 36, 10:13.
Ari-Anderson 12 pass from Krieg (Anderson pass from Krieg), 13:17.
Ari SD First downs 13 20 Rushes-yards 15-32 33-92 Passing 250 288 Punt Returns 1-4 3-30 Kickoff Returns 5-101 4-144 Interceptions Ret. 4-27 0-0 Comp-Att-Int 24-40-0 26-41-4 Sacked-Yards Lost 5-33 0-0 Punts 7-44 2-54 Fumbles-Lost 6-1 2-2 Penalties-Yards 8-70 10-72 Time of Possession 26:52 33:08
RUSHING - Arizona, Hearst 11-18, Centers 3-15, Krieg 1-(minus 1). San Diego, Hayden 24-84, Fletcher 2-3, Humphries 4-2, Culver 2-2, Gilbert 1-1.
PASSING - Arizona, Krieg 24-40-0-283. San Diego, Humphries 26-41-4-288.
RECEIVING - Arizona, Centers 9-79, Moore 5-104, Edwards 3-39, McBride 3-14, Hearst 2-10, Sanders 1-25, Anderson 1-12. San Diego, Seay 7-114, Martin 7-57, Harmon 4-35, Pupunu 3-44, Hayden 2-21, Fletcher 1-6, Jefferson 1-6, D.Young 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - Arizona, G.Davis 37.