Running back Tim Hightower eases into the end zone for the second of his two touchdowns Sunday during a 43-13 win over Denver.
The kicker scored a touchdown and, for a while there, everything else too.
The rookie quarterback was far from spectacular but unfazed in his first start and mistake-free. The defense generated six turnovers. The running back stepped up after a fumble to finish off his best game ever.
It equated to a Cardinals' win for the first time in a very long time, beating up the Denver Broncos, 43-13, at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday to break a seven-game losing streak.
"It was a good day for us," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, in what could only be considered a massive understatement.
Even the bad was good for the Cardinals (4-9), when rookie linebacker Daryl Washington picked off a pass in the waning minutes and headed for the end zone. Slowing down and raising the ball in celebration, Washington was stripped at the Denver 1-yard line – only to have teammate Darnell Dockett fall on it in the end zone.
Jay Feely booted five field goals and scored on a five-yard touchdown run on a fake field goal. He was the only Card to score until Tim Hightower took over. Hightower, who fumbled late, rallied to score on two long touchdown runs and finished with a career-high 148 yards.
It was all in support of new quarterback John Skelton, who finished 15-of-37 for 146 yards and delivered the win he said last week was his priority.
"We didn't get in the end zone (enough) and that hurts," Skelton said. "But Jay did a great job kicking field goals and the defense did a great job of getting field position. We didn't take advantage. I thought I played decent. It's something to build on."
Whisenhunt wouldn't commit to Skelton to start next week in Carolina, noting he didn't need to make a decision so quickly after the game. But he was clearly impressed with how Skelton handled himself, since "he never seemed flustered."
Receivers dropped three of Skelton's first four throws – all incompletions – but Skelton said it didn't affect him. Third downs were still an issue – the Cards were 4-for-16 – but ultimately, they did score some touchdowns.
It started with Feely, who finally had a chance to show off his gloves. Already having a Pro Bowl-quality season with his leg (his 5-for-6 day makes him 20-for-22 this season), the Cards went with the fake leading 6-3 and it worked perfectly.
Holder Ben Graham tossed the ball to Feely – who was nursing a sore right groin all week -- running right, and he sprinted to the right pylon for his first touchdown ever. It was in the middle of what could have been the Jay Feely Show – and afterward, his teammates still were enjoying talking about it – but as the Cards finished with scores in other areas, Feely was thrilled to share the spotlight.
"I am hopeful that jump-starts our offense," Feely said. "If we had struggled and not really moved the ball in the second half, you look to next week and think, 'Maybe we don't have the same momentum.' Hopefully getting the momentum, getting Tim in the end zone, it will carry forth the rest of the season."
Hightower was actually benched briefly after another ill-timed fumble, an early fourth-quarter play that in the past might have sent him to the bench for good. But the Cards didn't have Beanie Wells available – he carried just six times before a stomach illness curtailed his day – and Hightower was needed.
All Hightower did was run for 97 of his yards after the fumble plus his two scores.
"It's funny, I was complaining a lot during the game, mad at myself, frustrated about a lot of different things," Hightower said. "It just seemed that fumble … sometimes it takes things to humble yourself. I felt like I was humbled in that situation.
"At that point, it seemed like everyone rallied around me and allowed me to finish strong."
The margin for error was much bigger Sunday because of the defense, which made a mess of the debut of Broncos interim head coach Eric Studesville. Safety Kerry Rhodes and cornerback Michael Adams added interceptions to Washington's, while Rhodes, linebacker O'Brien Schofield and defensive end Calais Campbell recovered fumbles.
Orton finished with a passing rating of 27.1 and 1,000-yard receiver Brandon Lloyd was held to 32 yards on three catches.
"We are playing the way we expected to play this year," Rhodes said. "We are coming out with a chip on our shoulder, playing with a purpose, and you can see it."
The Cards have three games left, beginning with a road trip to one-win Carolina next weekend. They wouldn't mind continuing a new streak. They certainly are happy to be finished with the last one.
"Those seven weeks have been a grind," Feely said. "For this team, where they've been the last couple of years, to lose seven straight, it was so big to get that monkey off our back."
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