Linebackers Shaun Phillips #95 and Kevin Burnett #99 of the San Diego Chargers celebrate a Phillips sack against the Arizona Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium on October 3, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 41-10. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Change out of uniform. Change into street clothes. Woosh — disappear.
Even after the greatest game of his career, Phillips was unwilling to break his season-long vow of silence with the media.
“Today, he didn't talk much,” linebacker Antwan Applewhite said. “But he did his talking on the field.”
Speared by Phillips, the Chargers defense had nine sacks and forced three turnovers while pitching a shutout late into the fourth quarter, and a balanced offense and much-improved special teams unit completed Sunday's rout in a 41-10 pounding of the Arizona Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium.
Phillips, who ranks second in the NFL with six sacks in four games, flattened Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson for the second time in three drop-backs with 3:17 remaining in the second quarter. On the ensuing play, his 31-yard interception return led coach Ken Whisenhunt to pull Anderson in favor of rookie Max Hall.
“That guy's the leader of the defense,” Applewhite said. “Him and (Stephen Cooper) and (Eric) Weddle — these guys come out there every play every day and play the same type of way. He had an incredible game, and I'm so glad for him because he's been waiting for it.”
Arizona's only touchdown came in the first quarter when Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes returned a Darren Sproles fumble 42 yards. It was a rare mistake for a Chargers offense that was otherwise in complete control.
Antonio Gates continued to play what he believes is the best football of his career. He outmaneuvered Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson on one touchdown and outran linebacker Paris Lenon on another to finish with seven receptions, 144 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Philip Rivers went 15-for-20 for 241 yards, but he didn't have to complete a pass to a wide receiver until the third quarter with the way Gates was going. Gates leads all tight ends with 24 receptions and 386 yards this season and paces all NFL receivers with six touchdowns.
“Mentally, the game seems slower,” said Gates, who became the seventh tight end in NFL history to surpass the 500-career reception mark on a 12-yard catch in the second quarter. “I’m not as fast as I used to be, but mentally I’ve grown.”
Mike Tolbert drew the start at running back and Ryan Mathews followed, providing a one-two punch to which Arizona' 31st-ranked run defense had no answer. Tolbert rushed 16 times for a career-high 100 yards and a touchdown, and Mathews had nine carries for 55 yards with his first career touchdown on a 15-yard run.
Coach Norv Turner explained the pecking order as a way to ease in Mathews, who was coming off an ankle sprain and left elbow strain.
“Ryan came in and showed the explosiveness that he has,” Turner said. “I look forward to watching him run on a regular basis, and I'm excited by where Michael Tolbert is as a runner.”
A week after allowing two kickoff return touchdowns, a revamped coverage team limited the dangerous LaRod Stephens-Howling to 17 yards per return with a long of 26. Newcomer safety Quinton Teal led the unit with three tackles, and Turner credited kicker Nate Kaeding for some of the improvement.
The Chargers are 2-0 with a 79-23 scoring advantage at home compared to 0-2 with a 34-48 breakdown on the road. The team's next step is to reverse its fate away from Qualcomm.
What better opportunity to do so, one player said, than against the rival Raiders next week.