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Cardinals Address Chief Concern: Winning

Posted Dec 7, 2014

Williams runs for 100 yards as 17-14 win over Kansas City snaps losing streak


Lyle Sendlein pulled the tape off his fingers, still sweaty from the win the Cardinals came away with Sunday afternoon.

The losing streak was over, snapped at two by one of the nailbiters this team has now made its livelihood. The Cardinals beat Kansas City, 17-14, to run their record to 7-0 at University of Phoenix Stadium and 10-3 overall. For another week, they still own the best record not only in the NFC West but in the entire NFC.

There was a sense of relief. But the veteran center didn’t want to delve too deeply into such thoughts.

“I just know we can’t get complacent,” Sendlein said. “We’re a better team when our backs are against the wall. We play better that way. We’ve got to maintain that kind of attitude going into games.”

It probably won’t be difficult. The Cards now have to play in St. Louis Thursday night, against a Rams team that has posted back-to-back shutouts and has a chance to reach .500 by beating Arizona. The road hasn’t been favorable to the Cards of late.

Yet the buzzword “resilient” floated around the locker room often Sunday. The Cardinals sometimes feel like they are pieced together from spare parts, held fast by duct tape and hope. Coach Bruce Arians, smiling wide after the win, still had to announce to the world starting running back Andre Ellington was done for the season, headed to injured reserve with hernia surgery pending.

It was much easier to smile giving the news knowing Kerwynn Williams became the man to be next man up against the Chiefs, going from the practice squad Friday to the Cardinals’ first 100-yard rushing day of the season (100 yards exactly, on 19 carries).

The Cardinals had a season-best 141 rushing yards. They didn’t turn the ball over, which had been part of their formula for winning all season. And the defense pitched a second-half shutout, sacking Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith five times.

“It’s been too long since we were in the win column,” said defensive end Calais Campbell, who had a sack. “It’s good that we can … I don’t want to say shut the critics up, because I like when the critics are against us, because we play better. This team finds a way to fight. We are better when we are the hunters than we are the hunted.”

The Cardinals can’t deny they also had a pair of official’s calls go in their favor, and if either had gone the other way so too would have the complexion of the game.

The first came when Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano was called for offensive pass interference in the red zone and the Chiefs already leading, 14-9 in the third quarter. Fasano hit Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote, knocking Foote down, before later in the play catching a 19-yard touchdown pass. In a pool report with referee Craig Wrolstad after the game, Wrolstad said the flag was for Fasano blocking downfield.

The Chiefs felt Foote may have embellished the contact.

“I don’t flop,” Foote said. “That ain’t my game.”

Saddled with a 10-yard penalty instead of a touchdown, the Chiefs were forced to throw and – because of heavy pressure from defensive end Frostee Rucker – Smith threw an interception to linebacker Alex Okafor. It set up the Cardinals’ only touchdown of the game, a 26-yard pass from Stanton to Jaron Brown, in a game where every other drive stalled before the end zone.

“I think you just have to be resilient,” quarterback Drew Stanton said. “You just keep going and trust the game plan.”

Later, with the Chiefs moving into the red zone for what looked like at least a game-tying field goal, tight end Jason Kelce had the ball knocked out as safety Deone Bucannon made the tackle. Kelce thought he grabbed the loose ball enough after hitting the ground to have the play be over. Cornerback Justin Bethel thought enough to grab it just in case. Arians challenged the play, and the officials ended up overturning the call on the field and giving the ball to the Cardinals.

Trailing, Smith ended up throwing 39 passes (completing 26 for 293 yards), which has never been a recipe for his success. The Chiefs (7-6), losers of three straight, never got close to scoring after that.

“Go on to something besides the officials,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said to reporters after being asked a couple of questions about the calls. “I don’t have anything good to say.”

The Cardinals didn’t have a problem coming up with some good things to talk about, although there were parts of the game that gave pause. Rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro hit three field goals, but he also put one attempt off each upright – including one with 1:14 left that left some upset stomachs – for six points the Cardinals could have used.

The Cards also caught a break when Jamaal Charles hurt his ankle early in the game, soon after he broke off an electrifying 63-yard touchdown run. Charles was minimized after that, gaining only 91 yards total on 10 carries (although he did have an 18-yard touchdown catch-and-run).

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald came back for the first time after missing two games with a knee sprain, catching four passes for 34 yards and clearly giving the offense some confidence with his mere presence. Fitzgerald isn’t 100 percent, but “I was good enough to go.”

“In December football, we need all hands on deck,” Fitzgerald said. “To be 10-3, that’s rare air.”

Stanton finished 15-for-30 for 239 yards, but zero turnovers meant he succeeded at the most important part of his job -- especially with the way the Cardinals were running the ball.

“I didn’t know what my role was going to be,” Williams said. “I just wanted to be prepared whatever it was.”

The Cardinals will likely need similar production going forward. The last three games are all against NFC West opponents. The Rams are red-hot. The Cards follow that up with a “Sunday Night Football” showdown with Seattle in a game that sure seems like it will determine the NFC West title.

Then comes a trip to San Francisco, where the 49ers are reeling after a loss to lowly Oakland.

Prep for the Rams starts quickly. At least it’s in the hue of a victory, which even Arians admitted his team needed badly.

“Heck yeah,” Arians said. “I ain’t going to deny that. We needed one big.”

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