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Skelton, Cards Stun Eagles

Posted Nov 13, 2011

Defense, late drive provide Cardinals with 21-17 road win in Philly

Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling hauls in his key fourth-down catch Sunday during the Cardinals' 21-17 win over the Eagles in Philadelphia.

PHILADELPHIA – Maybe John Skelton doesn’t know any better.

“He’s a wall,” center Lyle Sendlein said, a small smile sliding across his face.

How else would you explain Sunday, when Skelton – in his first road start of the year and third overall, victim of a couple of interceptions that should have cost the Cards everything – played quarterback on the final drive like had been mistake-free all day?

The Cardinals shocked the Lincoln Financial Stadium crowd (or maybe not, given their team’s propensity to blow leads) by toppling the Eagles, 21-17, officially when Skelton found Early Doucet for a five-yard screen pass for a touchdown with less than two minutes left.

But it was the way Skelton maneuvered his team 87 yards for that score, with a floating 30-yard completion to running back LaRod Stephens-Howling on a wheel route to keep the drive alive. Or the 37-yard bomb to Larry Fitzgerald down to the Philadelphia 1-yard line. Or then the pass to Doucet.

On the heels of an interception that allowed the Eagles to take the lead, it should have been more difficult. For Skelton, it wasn’t.

“It’s just a short memory,” Skelton said. “When you get down to the nitty-gritty, you have to put it out of your mind.”

The Cardinals (3-6) won a second straight game and snapped an 11-game losing streak on the road. They won on the East Coast, always an issue. They finished  for a second straight game, and handed the Eagles (3-6) their fifth loss of the season when Philly had held a fourth-quarter lead.

The Eagles fans acted like they knew it was coming, and the Cardinals want to believe they did too.

“We exorcised a lot of demons today,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Whisenhunt was asked if Skelton – who completed 21-of-40 passes for 315 yards, three touchdowns and the two interceptions – had made a play for the starting job over the injured Kevin Kolb. Whisenhunt, who wouldn’t comment on such an idea last week, said he needed to look at the video.

But it would wait for now, Whisenhunt added. “I want to enjoy this (win),” he added.

Given the Cards’ season, it was something to savor. Defensively, the Cardinals were fantastic, allowing only 289 yards to the high-powered Philadelphia offense, which was without wide receiver DeSean Jackson after he missed a Saturday team meeting and was inactive.

The Eagles ran the ball well statistically, with running back LeSean McCoy getting 81 and quarterback Michael Vick adding 79 on just 22 total attempts. But Vick was only 16-of-34 passing for 128 yards, threw two interceptions and never got comfortable.

“Coach (Ray) Horton called a good game,” said defensive end Calais Campbell, who had his first career interception, leaping and grabbing one at the line of scrimmage. “It was hard for (the Eagles) to get in a rhythm.”

That’s why, when Skelton threw his second pick of the game (the first was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Asante Samuel), the defense was confident enough to hold the Eagles without a first down.

Skelton had made a “terrible throw” picked off by Nnamdi Asomuga and the Eagles had had the ball at the Arizona 26-yard line, but all they got was a field goal to take a 17-14 lead with a little more than five minutes left.

Perfect timing for Skelton.

“There was definitely a feeling of missed opportunities” early in the game, Whisenhunt said, not the least of which two missed Jay Feely field goals from 35 and 43 yards. “But guys didn’t get down.”

The drive started not with the crucial choice to go on fourth-and-2 but the play before, when the Cards faced a third-and-19 and Skelton, under pressure, flipped it to running back Chester Taylor. Taylor managed to pick up 17 yards, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a question of going for it.

“I thought I had (the first down),” Taylor said. “We just kept fighting.”

Then came the play to Stephens-Howling, who was hoping the play would be for a touchdown. “You just got to make the play,” Stephens-Howling said. “I was just waiting for that thing to come down.”

It finally did, setting the stage for Fitzgerald. With two touchdowns Fitzgerald had already broken  the franchise record with his 69th and 70th scores of his career. He ended up with seven catches for 146 yards, but the best was the last, adjusting for a ball for which he had no idea where it was when it left Skelton’s hand.

“John throws me that every day after practice,” Fitzgerald said. “I just wish I would have kept my feet and gotten into the end zone.”

The Cards could have challenged – it seemed like Fitzgerald slid into the end zone before he was touched – but Whisenhunt said there wasn’t a clear enough view to challenge.

It ultimately worked out for the Cardinals anyway, and “The Wall” they have at quarterback. Sendlein was asked if his description meant Skelton was sturdy or thick upstairs. Sendlein grinned.

“I’m going to say sturdy,” Sendlein said. “We love John.”

That’s what happens after a win.

“The way (Skelton) came back,” Whisenhunt said. “it shows he’s got something.”

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