Running back Andre Ellington turns the corner on a run during Sunday's win in Oakland.
OAKLAND, Calif. – Bruce Arians thought Andre Ellington was done for the day, believing the running back's game cut short at halftime with a rib injury and frankly, the way the Cardinals have had to dodge and weave personnel losses all year.
"I figured the way our season was going, he wasn't coming out (to play)," Arians said.
The one who never thought it was a problem was Ellington himself, who shrugged after his 30-touch, 160-yard performance during Sunday's 24-13 win over the Raiders.
"I knew I was good," said Ellington, still wearing half his uniform long after the final whistle because he was getting looked at in the training room.
It was the kind of performance needed by the Cardinals, who moved to 5-1 for the first time since 1976
and grabbed a two-game lead in the NFC West over Seattle (3-3), which suffered a stunning loss in St. Louis earlier. With San Francisco (4-3) losing in Denver as well, the day became huge in the Cards drive to win the division.
Arians didn't want to talk about that, insisting that his team wouldn't either.
"You never underestimate an opponent," Arians said, "and be damn sure not to overestimate yourself."
Perhaps it is Ellington's role that has been underestimated. The Raiders (0-6) do not have a good run defense, allowing almost 150 yards a game coming in. The Cardinals got 123 on the day, with Stepfan Taylor getting a 12 carries for 40 yards.
Taylor simply set the stage for Ellington, halftime scare excluded. Ellington finished the day with 88 yards rushing on a career-high 24 carries, his average driven down late as the Cardinals ran the clock. He also had six receptions for 72 yards (and was targeted nine times) and drew a key pass interference call on the Cards' final TD drive.
"We're going to keep riding him," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "He's our workhorse."
Ellington hasn't been healthy all season, a lingering foot injury preventing the Cardinals from truly letting
him loose. Arians said a big reason Ellington hasn't gotten as many touches as he did Sunday was because he hasn't been able to practice much. He and quarterback Carson Palmer simply don't have the confidence in certain plays because they have not been repped.
That could be changing.
"I can't wait to see him get to 100 percent," Palmer said.
The Cardinals took a 14-0 lead early, with Palmer throwing touchdown passes to Taylor and wide receiver Michael Floyd. The game looked like it could be in hand early. But the Raiders rallied just before the half, first using a 55-yard bomb from rookie qiuarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Brice Butler to set up a Darren McFadden rushing touchdown.
Then Palmer threw his and the Cardinals' first interception of the season, a pass too high for wide-open tight end John Carlson that tipped off Carlson's hand and into the mitts of Raiders safety Charles Woodson. Woodson took it back to the Arizona 13-yard line.
The defense made sure Oakland only got a field goal.
"We were upset about giving up that touchdown, and it's the goal to hold them there," linebacker Larry Foote said. "You try to snatch a little bit of the momentum back."
Eventually, the Raiders cut the lead to 14-13. But Carr only had 173 yards passing on 16-of-28 passing and the Raiders could only muster 56 rushing yards. And then Ellington showed how he was the workhorse Fitzgerald suggested he was.
On an 80-yard drive, Ellington had six rushes for 40 yards. He caught a screen pass he turned into 16 yards. And he had the aforementioned pass interference call that netted another 20 yards. All in a row.
With the ball sitting on the Oakland 4, Ellington waved Taylor in the game. Ellington said he could have stayed in but instead turned the spot over to Taylor. Taylor rumbled in for his second score.
"He deserved it," Ellington said.
Palmer finished 22-of-31 for 253 yards. Other than Ellington, no receiver had more than 47 yards as Palmer spread the ball around. Palmer said as well as the Cardinals ran, he thought the passing game was better, and said the offensive line continued to play "lights out."
The offensive line, which has been searching for better production in the run game for weeks, was just happy to control the line of scrimmage for a good chunk of the game.
"We know (Andre) is a great back," left tackle Jared Veldheer said. "We expect more out of ourselves."
The Cardinals, however, now know what they can get out of their No. 1 running back.
"That's the type of game," said Arians, " that we are expecting from him."
Images from the Cardinals' Week 7 game in Oakland