Cardinals cornerback Antrel Rolle and Browns tight end Kellen Winslow await quarterback Derek Anderson's final Hail Mary pass in the Cards' 27-21 win Sunday.
Terrence Holt was crying.
His teammates wondered what was wrong, but nothing was. Not Sunday. Instead, the Cardinals had escaped with a 27-21 win over the Cleveland Browns – with the Browns' Hail Mary 37-yard toss to tight end Kellen Winslow barely out of bounds on the final play -- and the Cards' safety vented his feelings through tears.
"There was so much going through my mind," said Holt, after the Cardinals evened their record at 6-6. "We needed a win like this.
"I have been on an emotional roller-coaster. But we showed how much we have grown up as a team."
The Cards will inevitably still be wishing they had prevailed against the 49ers the week before. And with receiver Larry Fitzgerald already sitting out with a bad groin, the Cardinals lost fellow Pro Bowl wideout Anquan Boldin to a dislocated toe.
But after conquering Cleveland (7-5) at University of Phoenix Stadium, they are one of three NFC teams tied for the conference's final wild-card spot – and in an entirely different frame of mind compared to post-San Francisco.
"This," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "was kind of a cleansing win for us."
Even before it was decided Fitzgerald would take a seat Sunday, Whisenhunt had told his offensive line the Cards needed to – and would – run the ball more often.
It was easier done after cornerback Rod Hood picked off Browns quarterback Derek Anderson in the first quarter and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown, the first step in taking an eventual 14-0 first-quarter lead.
Hood had his second two-interception game of the season, and the Cardinals ended up forcing four turnovers. The Cardinals turned it over themselves just once.
That allowed Whisenhunt to run the offense the way he wanted.
Whisenhunt admitted the run game was not spectacular most of the afternoon. But running back Edgerrin James had one of his finest games of the season, gaining 114 yards on 24 carries – including 40 yards alone on what turned out to be the game-clinching drive late in the fourth quarter.
James declined interview requests after the game, in a hurry to make his airline flight to Florida to attend the funeral of Redskins safety Sean Taylor.
But fullback Terrelle Smith, James' lead blocker and coincidentally a former Brown who enjoyed knocking off his one-time team, said James' emergence was basic football.
"When you say the word football, as an offense, that's what it means," Smith said. "You have the new era of football, where you put the wide receivers, dink and dunk, run around, look pretty, like it's a circus.
"But when it comes down to it, that's what people do: Pound the ball, simple as that."
The Cardinals did bog down once James carried it down to the Cleveland 1-yard line with two minutes to go. Two James rushes from there gained nothing, and ultimately, ahead by only three points, Whisenhunt chose to kick a field goal.
"I did think about going for it -- you know me," Whisenhunt said.
But Whisenhunt thought better of it when he determined he'd rather have the Browns need a touchdown to win rather than a field goal to tie.
The only problem was that the Browns almost got that touchdown.
Starting a drive at the Cleveland 33 with 1:48 left, Anderson – who finished 21-of-41 with 304 yards, two touchdowns and the two interceptions – maneuvered the Browns to the Arizona 37 with 22 seconds left.
Eventually, the Browns were faced with a fourth down with six seconds left. They lined up Winslow wide left, where college teammate Antrel Rolle readied to bump him off the line of scrimmage and safety Oliver Celestin waited at the goal line.
Winslow got into the corner of the end zone, leaped, and caught the ball clean as Rolle reached up and Celestine belted Winslow's body. Winslow was called out of bounds – replays showed that – and the officials did not call a force-out.
But there were still anxious moments when referee Jerome Boger said he would review the play on replay.
"I knew they were going to go to him," said Rolle, who like James was rushing off to Taylor's funeral. "I was trying to force him out (on the jam at the line of scrimmage) but he is such a big strong guy. I kind of lost vision of the ball when it was in the air, so I played his hands.
"He told me it was a catch. I told him it wasn't. Then he told me he loved me and I told him I love him too. That was it."
Added Celestin, "I didn't want to celebrate too early."
Boger came on the field to announce the play stood as called, and the Cardinals rejoiced.
The Browns weren't happy – "It was a force-out," Anderson said – but by then, it didn't matter. Holt's emotions got the best of him, and the Cardinals' postseason hopes were given a booster shot once again.
In a season in which 10 of the Cards' 12 games have been decided by a single score – including eight decided in the final two minutes – Arizona's players felt they had earned one back.
"I can honestly say," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, "when you watch the film, we deserved to win this game."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 12/2/07