Cardinals running back Ryan Williams (left) breaks off a 15-yard run as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) springs him with a block in Friday night's 31-27 win.
When the night was over Friday, the Cardinals had some of the answers they had been looking for, but not all of them.
And they were left with one big extra question.
Running back Ryan Williams returned to play for the first time after his ruptured patella tendon last year, and looked good in a 31-27 win over the Oakland Raiders at University of Phoenix Stadium. The quarterback competition remains undecided after Kevin Kolb had a slow finish after a quick start and John Skelton had hardly any work at all. Rookie Justin Bethel blocked two kicks and scored a touchdown in his quest to prove himself a special-teams ace, and the starting defense responded with a solid performance.
But it was the right triceps injury to starting left tackle Levi Brown that left everyone wondering the most. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he would know more Saturday of the severity of the injury, but there is a chance it could be significant – wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said Brown told him on the field he "heard something" – and his offensive linemates were bracing for whatever news might come.
"We don't know the extent of the injury and he's probably our most vocal and hard-working guy we have on our offense," center Lyle Sendlein said.
"It's not like you can call 1-800-Left-Tackle. We're just hoping everything is alright."
Brown's situation took some of the luster off a performance the Cardinals (1-2) desperately needed. Responding well to Whisenhunt's disappointment from the previous two games, the Cards held the Raiders (0-2) to a three-and-out on their opening drive and scored themselves – behind 3-of-3 passing by Kolb – on their own opening series.
Williams was in the spotlight on that drive, scoring a touchdown to cap the march. The second-year back carried five times for 25 yards after starting. It was his first action since getting hurt 364 days previous in Green Bay.
"My heart has been pounding for two or three days," Williams said. "It was like I hadn't played football, like I was back in Pop Warner. But that got over quick, after that first carry. After that first hit, it was like, 'Whew. Now let's ball.' "
From there, though, Kolb had only three more passes, all incomplete, and was sacked three times. One of the sacks was a safety and protection looked like it broke down. By the time Skelton came in, it was after a fumble recovery by linebacker Stewart Bradley on the Oakland 23-yard line. Skelton threw three passes, all complete, with the last to fullback Anthony Sherman for a touchdown.
But that was the extent of his work, after the Raiders held the ball the rest of the second quarter and Whisenhunt had no desire to send the starting offensive line back out after halftime – and no desire to have Skelton play with the backups.
"There is a little frustration but at the same time you kind of understand it," Skelton said. "You can't have the offensive line in there for an extended amount of time just to make everything equal. I was a little mad about the decision, but at the same time I understand it."
With such little play, nothing will be decided on the quarterback competition yet.
"I like the way today went a lot better," Kolb said. "The way we started, that was a big key for us throughout the week. That's what Ken's been harping on. He didn't tell us when we were going to come out or how much we were going to be playing, so it felt like a real game today for the first time. My own focus was elevated."
Whisenhunt said he didn't see enough Friday night, with the limited time for Skelton, to make a final quarterback choice. Skelton will play extended time in Tennessee, where he is scheduled to start.
Concerns about the quarterback or even left tackle can be assuaged a bit if the defense plays like it did. The first three-and-out was followed by a longer Raiders drive, although the Cards recovered after Oakland had a first-and-goal at the Arizona 1, stuffing the Raiders and forcing a field goal.
"They set the tone," Whisenhunt said. "It was encouraging seeing them respond the way they did."
Safety Kerry Rhodes had a 66-yard return on an interception to set up a field goal and the Cards looked much more fundamentally sound than the previous two sloppy outings.
"We got the message across," safety Adrian Wilson said. "We did what we were supposed to do. We played with excitement and guys were focused."