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David Johnson, Biscuit Risks Lift Cardinals

Posted Dec 4, 2016

Gutsy late play-calling and Peterson interception seal 31-23 win over Washington

Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson brings in a 42-yard touchdown pass Sunday to clinch a 31-23 win over Washington.

The biscuit was there to be risked, and the Cardinals looked like themselves again.

It’s who Bruce Arians is, after all, going for a fourth-and-1 with less than four minutes left at his own 34-yard line nursing a one-point lead. Or, right before the two-minute warning, having quarterback Carson Palmer heave a bomb into the end zone to try for a dagger touchdown.

Besides, with the Cardinals under .500 and hanging desperately on to what postseason chances that may remain, “what did we have to lose at this point?” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.

Not Sunday’s game. Not after running back David Johnson gained 14 yards on that fourth-down run. Not after J.J. Nelson made a spectacular 42-yard catch to convert that touchdown try, pushing the Cardinals to a 31-23 win over Washington Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“You go back to your roots,” Arians said. “When the game is on the line, no risk it, no biscuit.”

“They’re fun when they work,” Arians added with a smile. “When they don’t, you’re answering questions of ‘Why the heck did you do it?’ ”

The defense sealed up the win with a couple of late stops, including an interception from cornerback Patrick Peterson to officially douse hopes for the Redskins (6-5-1). But this felt like a game out of 2015, where the Cardinals (5-6-1) brought back to life an offense making big plays.

So much of that has to do with Johnson, who didn’t really do anything different Sunday except to show off his massive talent once again. Nelson hauled in the game-clinching touchdown and Fitzgerald was cementing his spot in NFL history with the 10 catches that put him third all-time in the NFL. But Johnson gained 84 yards rushing on 18 carries, gained another 91 on nine catches, scored touchdowns both ways and had Fitzgerald saying after the game that Johnson should be NFL MVP.

Palmer was even stronger.

“I think he’s the best player in the NFL,” Palmer said. “Point blank.”

It looked that way on the fourth down call, when Johnson ran to the left side and found a huge hole between tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Darren Fells for a 14-yard gain. The play put Johnson over 1,000 yards rushing for the season.

Add in his hop-and-speed-burst 25-yard screen pass touchdown earlier, and they were just a couple of Johnson’s highlights. As he has done all season.

All Arians did was compare him to a couple of other all-time backs Arians had been around in Indianapolis: Marshall Faulk and Edgerrin James.

“It’s a blessing to help the team and come in and get the win,” Johnson said. “Everything after that is just a testament to everyone who has helped me get there.”

Even after all that, it just set up one more Arians call – with 2:03 left, at the Washington 42, facing second-and-10.

“What’s the point of playing it safe?” Palmer said. “That’s (Arians’) motto.”

The Cardinals used play-action to Johnson – of course – although cornerback Quinton Dunbar had decent coverage. But Palmer threw the perfect pass, and Nelson, who has struggled of late, made his one catch of the game.

“We ran that play at practice this week, and I kind of took a bad angle,” Nelson said. “I was like, ‘If I get this opportunity, I’m not going to mess that up.’ Coach asked me, ‘Hey, you want this play?’ I told him, ‘Yeah.’ I was just praying Carson had the confidence in me to throw it.”

Palmer (30-for-46, 300 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) outplayed red-hot Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Fitzgerald made 10 receptions for 78 yards. Calais Campbell had one of his best games of the year, making a mess often up front and coming up with a strip sack that led to a Michael Floyd touchdown catch.

“That’s Five Stars being Five Stars in critical moments,” safety Tony Jefferson said.

The Cardinals helped themselves with the win, drawing closer to a Washington team who came into the day with the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC. It wasn’t a perfect day – the Buccaneers (7-5) won in San Diego, elevating them to the No. 6 spot – but the Cards are still breathing, 10th in the standings.

They travel to Miami next week. Four games remain. The Cardinals have to go undefeated to realistically have a chance. But they got the one win they needed this week.

“It’s just a win, but it’s a heck of a lot better than a loss,” Arians said. “It makes everything taste better tonight and to finally have a Victory Monday.”

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