ATLANTA – LaRod Stephens-Howling’s afternoon began normal enough.
The first of five Cardinals’ interceptions, coming just eight seconds into Sunday’s game, set up the offense at the Atlanta Falcons’ 9-yard line. Two runs later, Stephens-Howling had nine yards and his fourth touchdown of the season inked on his stat line. That’s where the normalcy ended.
On his next run, Stephens-Howling broke loose for 40 yards, setting a new career-long.
Three runs, just more than 3 minutes off the clock, and The Hyphen already had his third-most yards in a game this season.
After a handful of runs, none longer than five yards, Stephens-Howling set another new career-long late in the second quarter with a 52-yard run that included an ankle-breaking move on a Falcons’ defender that was worthy of Rucker Park.
He finished the run by cutting back inside, nearly breaking away for a touchdown before losing his footing on the Georgia Dome turf.
“The line did a great job blocking it up,” Stephens-Howling said. “They say they’re always going to give us the one and that’s our job to make the one guy miss so I was able to do that and get up field. And we had a lot of guys running down field, beating me downfield to help me get a little bit more yards. It was good to see that team effort.”
Stephens-Howling finished with a career-high 127 yards in the Cardinals’ 23-19 loss. He reveled in the aftermath of the two longest runs of his four-year career, saying the offensive line gets excited when breaks free like that, but he didn’t let himself celebrate it after the game.
“It’s bittersweet,” Stephens-Howling said. “Felt good for a little bit.”
Atlanta’s defense honed in on The Hyphen in the second half, holding him to just 14 yards in the final 30 minutes. But coach Ken Whisenhunt was still pleased with the improvement from his ground game.
“We ran the ball well today,” Whisenhunt said. “We got to build off that and continue to work on it. The way we look at it as a team, you know it is a little bit like last year defensively, we just got to continue to make progress on offense and we did that running the football and I think that will help us going forward.”
WILSON MOVE AMONG CHANGES PROMISED
When the Cardinals’ defense took the field for its first play Sunday, somebody was missing.
Wilson played, but only in base defense formations. When the Cards went to pass-first defensive packages, Wilson sat in favor of Johnson or
After the game, Wilson deferred inquiries about Whisenhunt’s decision to demote the 12-year veteran.
“That’s a head coach question,” Wilson said.
Whisenhunt had his answer when Johnson intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on the first play of the game and his defense came up with six turnovers.
“Looks like it worked pretty well, didn’t it?” Whisenhunt said of the secondary change. “Like I said, it was consistent with our message to the team and I think our team rallied behind that. Our team played hard today.”
CONTROVERSIAL FUMBLE COSTS CARDS
If taking over for starting quarterback
He was sacked by Falcons defensive end John Abraham, who knocked the ball loose as Lindley was starting his throwing motion. After the ball rolled on the ground for a few moments – and most players milling around, thinking it was an incomplete pass -- Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux ran it in for a touchdown. Confusion reigned. Even Cardinals receiver
According to the NFL rule, since Lindley’s hand was not moving forward, despite his arm moving in that direction, the ball was ruled a fumble. A replay review upheld that call on the field.
“Multiple players told me they heard a whistle and that’s why they stopped,” Whisenhunt said. “It wasn’t just one guy, it was a bunch of them. We had guys running on the field. They had guys running on the field. Everybody thought the play was over. You know you always tell them to play through the play but what do you say to your players when they say they heard a whistle and thought the play was dead?”
AMAZING TOLER FUMBLE AND THE REVIEW THAT WASN’T
The only turnover the Cardinals forced that wasn’t an interception came on one of the more impressive plays of the day. Linebacker
“I think it was second instinct,” Toler said. “I saw the ball going out-of-bounds and I said ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to save it.’ I just threw it back in and the biggest thing I was thinking was hopefully I’ll get my feet high enough so it went through (motions through his legs).”
After the save by Toler, the officials were going to review the play – every turnover is reviewed in the NFL – to see if Toler was out when he touched the ball. But Atlanta coach Mike Smith threw his red challenge flag before the officials had a chance to review the play, which not only forces an automatic 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty (since every turnover already will be reviewed) but by rule cancels the opportunity to review it at all.
“You’ve got lots of people talking in your ear and it was my mistake,” Smith said. “My guys bailed me out today. That’s what they did. I’ll learn from it and we won’t let it happen again. I can assure you that.”