The Los Angeles Chargers were limited to six points in three second-half trips to the red zone, Justin Herbert had two passes intercepted and Tristan Vizcaino missed a 44-yard field goal attempt in a 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Greg Zuerlein kicked the game-winning 56-yard field goal as time expired, three minutes, 54 seconds after Vizcaino tied the score with a 29-yard field goal. The Chargers appeared to have taken the lead four plays earlier, but Herbert’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Jared Cook was nullified by an illegal shift penalty.
Referee Tony Corrente explained to pool reporter Jeff Miller of the Los Angeles Times after the game that Cook had gone in motion before Mike Williams was in a set position.
“All 11 players have to be set simultaneously, at least for a second, before they can go into a shift, or they can go into motion,” Corrente said.
In a game where Dallas had the only punt, the Chargers were outgained 419 yards to 408 and trailed 25-24 in first downs but led 30:57-29:03 in the time of possession. The Chargers converted five of 12 third downs, 41.7%, the Cowboys six of 10, 60%. Dallas was unsuccessful on the game’s only official fourth-down conversion attempt.
“We lost this game on all three phases of the game,” said Brandon Staley, who was attempting to join Marty Schottenheimer as the second of the Chargers’ 17 coaches — including two interim coaches — to win both of their first two games with the team. “We didn’t play clean enough to win.”
Staley said he would “look at our red area plan.”
“Running the ball better gives you a much better chance of being successful in the red area,” Staley said. “Moving forward, I think if we run the ball better, we’ll put ourselves in a more favorable down for distances down there.”
The Chargers were penalized 12 times for 99 yards, the Cowboys eight times for 76 yards.
“It felt like a preseason game, to be quite honest with you,” Staley said. “That was just the way the game was being officiated today. We have to play within the parameters of how the game’s being called. We need to make sure that we keep our composure. If we play a clean enough game, none of that would matter.”
Vizcaino kicked a 32-yard field goal on the opening possession of the second half where the Chargers had a first down on Dallas’ 13-yard line, but their next three plays were a 2-yard pass by Herbert to Austin Ekeler, and a 1-yard run and incomplete pass by Herbert.
The Chargers’ drove to the Cowboys’ 9-yard line on their next possession, but Herbert’s third-down pass was intercepted in the end zone by Damontae Kazee after the intended receiver, Keenan Allen, had fallen down.
“It’s one of those timing routes and I have to be smarter and I have to see when he goes down,” Herbert said. “I have to go onto my next read. It is one of those bad mistakes that I got to learn from.”
Dallas took a 17-14 lead on the ensuing drive on Zuerlein’s 34-yard field, its first points since the first quarter. The field goal came one play after Dak Prescott fumbled when he was sacked by linebacker Kyler Fackrell for an 8-yard loss, but Cowboys guard Zack Martin recovered the ball.
Dallas (1-1) had an NFL-record tying 13 first downs in the first quarter, in which it led 11:10-3:50 in time of possession. The Chargers (1-1) had a 10:35-4:25 lead in time of possession in the third quarter, in which they had eight first downs to the Cowboys’ four.
Facing a Dallas defense that was without three starters because of injury or illness, Herbert completed 31 of 41 passes for 338 yards and one touchdown, was sacked twice and had an 87.2 passer rating. It was the 10th time in his 17-game NFL career Herbert exceed the 300-yard mark.
“I felt like Justin Herbert was outstanding in the game,” Staley said. “I felt like he gave us a real chance. He made some premium throws, some premium plays in that game, extended plays, ripping it down the field. I feel like if some of those penalties didn’t happen, it’s going to be monster day.”
Prescott completed 23 of 27 passes for 237 yards with one interception for an 87.8 passer rating against a Chargers’ defense that was without two starters because of injury, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle Justin Jones. He was sacked twice.
The Cowboys opened the scoring on the opening possession, driving 78 yards on 15 plays in 6:51, culminating with Tony Pollard’s 4-yard touchdown run. The drive was extended on linebacker Kyzir White’s 4-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-1 play from Dallas’ 48-yard line on a play Prescott threw a short incomplete pass.
Pollard rushed for a game-high 109 yards, the second-most of his three-season NFL career, on 13 carries.
Seeking their first 2-0 start since 2012, the Chargers gained 42 yards on their first two plays — a 20-yard run by Ekeler and a 22-yard pass by Herbert to Keenan Allen. The drive ended on the third play when Herbert’s pass was intercepted by cornerback Trevon Diggs at the Cowboys’ 20-yard line.
“Keenan ran a great route, it’s just on me to make a better throw, a better decision,” Herbert said. “That is something that I’ll have to touch this week at practice.”
The Cowboys committed their lone turnover three plays later, an interception of a Prescott pass by rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. at the Chargers’ 29-yard line. The second-round draft choice out of Florida State returned the ball 26 yards on his first NFL interception to the Cowboys’ 45-yard line.
Vizcaino kicked a 46-yard field goal five plays later.
Dallas took a 14-3 lead on the next series on Ezekiel Elliott’s 5-yard touchdown run. Prescott was three-for-three for 35 yards and Pollard ran twice for 22 yards on the seven-play, 75-yard drive.
The only points in the second quarter came on Herbert’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Williams and Ekeler’s run for the two-point conversion.
Vizcaino’s 44-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left in the half hit the left upright.
The Cowboys got the ball on their own 49-yard line following the miss and a 15-yard facemask penalty against Chargers’ tackle Trey Pipkins on the field goal attempt. Prescott completed a 34-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb to the Chargers’ 17-yard line, who lateraled to Elliott, who was pushed out of bounds at the Chargers’ 3-yard line by Derwin James as the half ended.
The crowd for the Chargers’ first regular-season game at SoFi Stadium with fans present was announced at 70,240. The Chargers played at SoFi Stadium in 2020, but fans were not permitted in an attempt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“It felt almost like a home game, definitely like you were back in Oxnard,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s awesome. When we pulled in here last night coming from the airport, there was a truck with three or four huge Cowboys flags hanging out the back. You love to see that.
“Our fans are phenomenal and it definitely helps the players and it definitely felt in a lot of ways like a home game.”