By David Brandt
AP Sports Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley knew he was going to go for the winning two-point conversion just minutes before it happened, so when the time came, he didn’t there was no question or looked at his playbook.
The result was even better than I imagined.
“Smooth as chocolate milk,” Staley said with a smile.
Justin Herbert threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler with 15 seconds left, then hit Gerald Everett for the decisive conversion to give the Los Angeles Chargers a 25-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Ekeler barely made it to the end zone for the TD that brought the Chargers within one, capping a seven-play, 38-yard drive that lasted 1:33. The ball hit the pylon as it dived towards the corner.
That set up Staley’s bold, if predetermined, decision. Herbert hit Everett for a fair catch despite heavy traffic near the goal line.
“We just believed in each other,” Herbert said. “That is one of those plays that we have repeated a lot in recent years. We feel comfortable with the guys out there. Gerald ran a great route, made a great catch.”
Herbert completed 35 of 47 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns for the Chargers (6-5), who snapped a two-game skid while remaining in the thick of the AFC playoff race. Arizona (4-8) has lost four of five, leaving it with almost no chance of making the NFC playoffs.
Herbert has now led 10 fourth-quarter comebacks in his three seasons. But with chances to win the past two weeks in similar situations, the Chargers fell short.
“That’s how it is when you’re a quarterback in the NFL,” Staley said. “You’re not going to make every 2-minute ride, but what’s going for him is that our entire organization believes he’s going to make it. He brought us back, game ball to him.
“Big acting. We couldn’t have won without him.”
The Chargers have lost by 10 points or more at some point in the first half in each of their last four wins. They trailed 14-0 against Cleveland and 10-0 against Denver, Atlanta and Arizona.
The Cardinals took a 24-17 lead early in the fourth quarter when Kyler Murray threw a short pass to James Conner for a 6-yard TD run. The veteran running back had 25 carries for 120 yards, his first 100-yard rushing game in two seasons with the Cardinals.
Murray passed for 191 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and rushed for a score after missing the previous two games with a hamstring injury.
Arizona had some big defensive stops in the fourth quarter, but the offense couldn’t run out of time. The Cardinals got the ball back with 2:19 remaining, but they went three and out in just 31 seconds.
DeAndre Carter returned a punt 20 yards, and a 5-yard penalty put the Chargers deep in Cardinals territory for the game-winning drive.
“We had our chances,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I think both teams played well enough to win. They made the plays at the end, sadly we didn’t. Our offense got him back twice, he went three and out, he can’t do that against a good team.”
Arizona took a 17-14 halftime lead when Murray ran for a 5-yard touchdown just before halftime, capping a 14-play, 75-yard drive.
The Cardinals had their top two receivers, DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown, on the field for the first time this season. Arizona jumped out to a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when Murray threw a pass up the middle to Hopkins, who scrambled off a tackle and ran into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown run.
Matt Prater’s 43-yard field goal on the Cardinals’ ensuing drive made it 10–0.
The Chargers quickly cut that margin midway through the second quarter when Herbert threw a 2-yard TD pass to Keenan Allen.
After Murray was picked off, Herbert found Carter for a 33-yard touchdown run and a 14-10 lead. Carter finished with seven catches for 73 yards along with the key punt return.
Chargers: WR Mike Williams (ankle) was inactive. … RT Trey Pipkins III (knee) and C Corey Linsley (concussion) left the game in the second quarter.
Cardinals: WR Greg Dortch (thumb), WR Rondale Moore (groin) and CB Byron Murphy Jr. (back) were inactive. … Arizona was missing four of its five starting offensive linemen. Left tackle DJ Humphries (back) was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Chargers: In Las Vegas next Sunday.
Cardinals: After a bye, host New England on Monday, December 12.
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