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When Late, Great Time For A Drive

Posted Nov 16, 2011

TD march in Philadelphia showed "urgency" of Cards

Wide receiver Early Doucet crosses the goal line for the game-winning touchdown against the Eagles.

A couple of seconds longer than five minutes remained in the game Sunday, and the Cardinals were 87 yards way from the end zone and trailing by three points.

Somehow, it’s hard to think many of them hadn’t been there before, whether it was in a previous game or in their mind’s eye many years before.

“Everyone growing up, playing in the backyard, you have that imaginary clock ticking down,” running back LaRod Stephens-Howling said. “It’s one of those things where you are finally living it out. And you have to make the plays.”

There may be no more valuable trait in the NFL than the ability for an offense to produce in such a situation. A team gets deep into the final quarter, a win or loss hangs on the outcome of a drive, and the unit comes through.

Quarterback John Skelton has done it a couple of times now in just six career starts, each in different ways. He had more time and needed more points in Philly compared to his Christmas comeback against Dallas last season, when a field goal was all that was needed to win.

The concept is the same, though.

“You have to be hurried and quick, yet very deliberate in everything you do,” Skelton said. “You can’t do it so fast that you are out of whack and guys aren’t on the same page. You have a sense of urgency without a sense of panic.”

Coach Ken Whisenhunt sees the recent successes (Skelton also led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive against the Rams, although it wasn’t up against the clock like Philadelphia) as a function of a couple of factors: A better understanding of what was needed after failing in similar circumstances earlier this season, and a reemphasis on late-game urgency after the team reached the bye week.

The late-game scenarios were one of the parts of the game practiced less than normal in training camp as the team tried to catch up after the lockout, Whisenhunt said.

Not everyone sees the drives as glass-half full either. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said it made him “upset” the offense could make headway down the field but couldn’t do it more often earlier in the game.

“We are putting a tremendous strain on our defense,” Fitzgerald said. “We have to do a better job of getting leads and keeping them on the sideline.”

In the moment, however, the Cardinals got what they needed in Philadelphia. Skelton has now converted two very different fourth-down plays in his late comebacks. He hit Fitzgerald on fourth-and-15 for a 26-yard pass against the Cowboys, spurring the game-winning field goal drive last season.

This year he only needed two yards on fourth down, although it took a beautiful touch pass to Stephens-Howling for a 30-yard gain.

“You want to be the guy to make the play for your team,” Stephens-Howling said, relishing the memory. “If you’re trying to hide, when it is time to get your number called, you’re not going to be able to make the play.”

Wide receiver Early Doucet, recalling the fourth down play, said he was wide open himself.

“Again, it’s that sense of urgency, you want to beat your man, to be able to be ‘That Guy,’ ” Doucet said. “Obviously the catch Larry made (a few plays later) will be one that is talked for a little while now.”

It’s about finishing the drive, though. Whisenhunt talked about the ability to score touchdowns, and after Fitzgerald’s fantastic reception to set the Cards up on the Philadelphia 1-yard line, two Beanie Wells runs actually put the Cards back at the 5.

Yet Skelton heard the play call – a slip screen to Doucet that the team has used well when Anquan Boldin used to be the target – and “I never had a doubt we wouldn’t score” a touchdown, Skelton said.

“Larry came running back to the huddle and said, ‘Early, this is your touchdown right here, so I’m going to clear it out for you -- make sure you catch it and get in the end zone,’ ” Doucet said. “I was just telling myself, ‘Catch the ball, catch the ball, catch the ball.’ Watching the replay, the guy had a clean shot to knock me out and he whiffed on it. I had God on my side, because he had the guy go right past me.”

That is where some luck – or mistakes on the other side – factor in, because Doucet was right. Eagles safety Kurt Coleman should have stopped him short of the goal line. Not only did Coleman not stop him, he somehow didn’t even touch Doucet.

The Cards had finished with a flourish.

“My family has have seen me play since I was little, and they ask, ‘Do you get nervous’ or ‘What do you think about?’ ” Skelton said. “Ultimately, football is football no matter what level. You do what you are supposed to do, you execute what is called, and that’s how teams are successful.

“Yeah, it is the NFL and a bigger stage, but it’s football.”

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