The script certainly hasn’t changed the Cardinals: Slow offensive start, defense plays solid to keep it close, offense rallies enough to get the team back in it, a big play or two comes at the end to forge a tie, and then the Cards win in overtime.
You know, just how they draw it up.
“On the sideline we kept saying, ‘We are not going to lose this game,’ ” defensive tackle
Certainly, there is nothing normal about how the Cards (7-7) are doing business these days except that they have created a new normal to keep feint playoff hopes alive. To go from a six-game losing streak earlier in the year to a current four-game winning streak – the team’s first since 1999 – is stunning in itself, but the way the Cards have gone about picking up victories tests the heart.
The latest version came after the Cardinals fell behind, 17-7, until less than 10 minutes remained in the game. Quarterback
The defense, again, stood out after stumbling early. And in their third overtime game in four home dates, the Cards two best playmakers –
“Yeah, this does test you,” said tight end
“But at the same time, we don’t have anyone on the sideline that doesn’t have confidence at any point in the game. We have a lot of guys that don’t believe it’s over until the clock stops. That’s fun to be a part of, with a group of guys that have learned how to win.”
They’ve won so much that coach Ken Whisenhunt, who needed seven victories coming into the season to become the franchise’s all-time winningest coach, reached that milestone against the Browns even though the team sat 1-6 a couple of months ago.
“It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty … but the way our team fights back is really something special,” Whisenhunt said.
It shouldn’t have been that way against the Browns (4-10), who shocked the high-flying Cards’ defense with a way-too-easy 76-yard touchdown drive to open the game and then left the crowd silent as backup quarterback Seneca Wallace – himself subbing for the concussed Colt McCoy – scrambled out of trouble and hit Greg Little for a 76-yard touchdown for the aforementioned 17-7 lead.
“You want to be a top defense, you can’t allow those two things,” Dockett said.
To be a top offense, the Cardinals need to improve on some things themselves. Skelton was 28-for-46 for 313 yards, a touchdown and an interception. But Fitzgerald was held to three catches, and after Schofield’s huge sack to force the fumble – originally, Wallace was declared down but Whisenhunt challenged the play and it was overturned – the Cards lost 10 yards after getting the ball on the Cleveland 5-yard line.
“Trials and tribulations,” Skelton said. “That’s the way you learn as a quarterback and as a team.”
Jay Feely’s field goal tied the game, and eventually meant overtime. That’s somewhere the Cards have comfort.
The defense held the Browns to one first down after the kickoff. Peterson, frustrated the Browns hadn’t punted to him all game, didn’t care anymore.
“I told the punt return team, ‘I’m not fair-catching anymore,’ ” Peterson said.
He didn’t, spinning out of a tackle or two to take it back 32 yards. It wasn’t a touchdown, but it did put the Cards at the Cleveland 40 and in prime position. Two runs later, the Cards used a bunch formation they had used to run Wells twice earlier in the game. The Browns guessed run. And Fitzgerald got loose wide-open down the field for a 32-yard gain.
“It was pretty much the same throw we had in Philadelphia (on Fitz’s big late reception) and he put it right on the money,” Fitzgerald said.
Feely converted the short field goal on first down, with the Cards unwilling to mess around with another play, and put another win in the back pocket.
“Typical Cardinals’ fashion,” Fitzgerald said. “Sloppy first half, come out a little better in the second.
“I’ve never been part of anything close to this. This has been a total flip.”