Receiver Steve Breaston makes one of his seven catches Sunday.
ST. LOUIS -- As Steve Breaston walked off the field Sunday, Darnell Dockett caught up to his teammate and grabbed him by the shoulders.
"I couldn't be more proud of you," the Pro Bowl defensive tackle told his wide receiver after the 17-13 victory, and not because of Breaston's career-high 132 yards receiving. It was because of the play Breaston made late in the third quarter, with the Cardinals' opener at risk.
With the Cardinals' trailing 13-10, quarterback Derek Anderson was hit and fumbled. Rams defensive lineman Clifton Ryan picked it up and rumbled toward the goal line. It should have been a touchdown. It should have been a back-breaking play.
And yet, screaming into the picture from down the field came Breaston.
Earlier in the game, Breaston did the same. Tim Hightower fumbled the ball away on the opening possession, and Rams linebacker Bradley Fletcher broke away on the return. Breaston chased him down, trying to knock the ball loose but instead settling for the tackle. That play saved points, because Adrian Wilson ended up blocking the ensuing field-goal attempt.
It's possible Breaston's follow-up saved so much more.
He raced after Ryan, and around the 5-yard line, came up from behind and knocked the ball out. The ball squirted into the end zone, when center Lyle Sendlein, also hustling after the play, was able to fall on it for a touchback.
Ryan – who had Breaston work at his offseason football camp a couple years ago – couldn't believe it. "He came out of nowhere," Ryan said.
It should have been 20-10 Rams. Instead, the Rams never scored another point.
"That's a guy," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "that understands the game."
"That's what you want on your team," Dockett said. "You want winners."
Breaston just smiled after when talking about it. It was no grand plan, it was just "how the game went." Wilson even deadpanned "I think we learned our lesson in the Super Bowl," a reference to the inability to chase down Steelers linebacker James Harrison on the 100-yard interception return that eventually cost the Cards a championship.
There is irony in the comparison too, since former receiver Anquan Boldin was one of the players who didn't chase after Harrison right away on that fateful play, not thinking it could eventually become fatal. It is Boldin who Breaston has succeeded in the lineup, the No. 2 to Larry Fitzgerald's No. 1.
Fitzgerald wasn't his normal self Sunday. The Cardinals tried to get him the ball often, with Anderson tossing 15 of his 41 attempts Fitz's way. Only three connected, though, and that combination clearly is a work-in-progress.
Yet there was Breaston and his seven receptions to bridge the gap. He thought he could have made even a bigger impact on offense had the Cards come his way earlier but "when it counted, we hit it."
To think, this is a player who even the Cards weren't sure would even become much more than a return man when he was drafted in the fifth round out of Michigan. But he has blossomed into a very good NFL wideout – good enough that the Cards never thought twice about the idea of trading Boldin. He has emerged, despite a relatively slight 6-foot, 189-pound frame, into one of the tougher players on the team.
And, as was easy to see Sunday, he is one of the smarter ones too.
"When you see the little things like that, guys that pay attention and understand the situation and do what he did," Whisenhunt said, "that is special."
Special enough to save a win.
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