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A Slow Start And A Win

Cards rally for 19-16 win in preseason opener, but starting offense struggles


Quarterback Matt Leinart throws a pass early in the Cardinals' 19-16 preseason win over the Texans Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Larry Fitzgerald sat at his locker after Saturday's preseason opener, having played only briefly and suffering some kind of right knee injury in the process.

But a chipper Fitzgerald had waited for the media to arrive, and after he stood up and was asked the obvious question about how he felt – bad knee and everything – the Pro Bowl wide receiver smiled.

"I feel great," Fitzgerald said. "How else can you feel after a win?"

Ahh, that's the question of the preseason. The Cardinals did win, 19-16, over the Texans at University of Phoenix Stadium, after a host of rookies – led by quarterback John Skelton – spearheaded a three-touchdown fourth quarter. But the regular season won't be about rookies, or late rallies against many defenders who won't even make NFL rosters. It'll be about the starters, and for the Cardinals, the starters – especially the offense – didn't play particularly well in their 2010 debut.

"I was disappointed in the way we started," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Offensively, it was the same kind of thing like in last week's Red and White practice. We made too many mistakes."

Through three quarters, the Cardinals – with Matt Leinart starting at quarterback and veteran Derek Anderson playing the rest of the time – generated just 120 yards. Leinart was 6-of-7 for 49 yards and sacked twice in three series. Anderson did come back to throw a two-yard touchdown pass to running back Beanie Wells for the Cards' first score of the night, but he passed for just 88 yards on 13-of-22 throws, was intercepted twice and had a third dropped.

The result was unlikely to change to current quarterback depth chart. Leinart left before speaking to the media.

"We got beat on protection on one play, we had a fumble where the ball got put on the ground, we never got into a rhythm," Whisenhunt said. "But we are playing with some young players in positions and there will be some growing pains."

Whisenhunt added it was "hard to really judge Matt because we didn't do a whole lot to help him."

That included new right tackle Brandon Keith, who was run over by Texans defensive end Mario Williams for an early sack. There were issues with players in the wrong spots as well, Whisenhunt said.

The first-unit defense played just a series, eventually giving up a field goal (the Cardinals did hold in the red zone all night, giving up just three field goals in four red-zone trips for the Texans).

The second-unit defense didn't fare as well, when cornerback Justin Miller got juked by Johnson and subsequently beat for a 44-yard touchdown pass on a two-play scoring drive the second time the Texans had the ball.

Houston quarterback Matt Schaub played just the two series, finishing with a perfect passing rating of 158.3 after completing 5-of-6 passes for 78 yards and a score. The Cardinals' defense did manage to repeat last season's goal-line stand to beat the Texans, when linebacker Pago Togafau drilled running back Steve Slaton at the goal line, and the ball popped out and was recovered by rookie linebacker Daryl Washington.  

"I applaud the second- and third-team because our first team, offense and defense, we didn't get it done today in the little plays we played," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.

"It's preseason. You don't really want to shoot your guns too early. We're OK."

They were OK because Skelton came in and provided a perfect passing rating of his own. Playing the final 6 minutes, he completed 5-of-6 passes for 84 yards, with the winning score coming on a 15-yard middle screen pass to running back Jason Wright.

"I knew eventually my time was going to come and they would call my number," Skelton said.

It put a happy ending on what could have been a hard lesson to start the season.

"Overall I'm pleased with our team's effort," Whisenhunt said. "I thought our young guys, in the end, stood up and made some plays."

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