Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson hauls in a one-handed catch for 38 yards during Sunday's win over the Browns.
CLEVELAND – The halftime speech wasn't much, Bruce Arians insisted. His players were angry, his veterans more than capable of making everyone understand what the Cardinals had thrown away two quarters into their game Sunday against the Browns.
"I used to throw (expletive), but I can't lift it anymore," Arians quipped.
His players, though, told a different story.
Larry Fitzgerald said Arians' message was simple facing a 20-10 deficit. Did the Cardinals consider themselves contenders or pretenders?
"I think we had a two-minute briefing about what we were doing wrong on the football field, and then he lit into us for another two minutes," defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said, after the Cardinals outscored Cleveland, 24-0, the second half of a 34-20 win at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"We got the point."
That was apparent. The Cardinals (6-2) reached their bye with the win they expected to get, even if it wasn't the way they expected to get there. Like in their two losses, the Cardinals moved the ball pretty well but two first-half turnovers led to a deficit of 20-7 at one point.
And the defense wasn't holding up either, allowing three touchdown passes from one-time Cardinal quarterback Josh McCown, all on third down.
The Cards managed to kick a field goal right before halftime, leading to a 10-point deficit that seemed so much more.
Whatever message the Cardinals needed to hear at the break – and from whomever it might have come from – it translated in the second half.
"You didn't want to be in there," said running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for 109 yards but also had
two lost fumbles.
It started with the defense, which suddenly locked down the Browns (2-6). McCown was held to 89 second-half passing yards before he gave way late to backup Johnny Manziel. Cleveland gained only 39 yards rushing on 20 carries. The Browns were 6-of-8 on third-downs in the first half but only 3-of-8 after halftime.
"We knew it was a game we could dominate," defensive tackle Calais Campbell said.
After the initial stop, quarterback Carson Palmer – who missed both Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald running behind the defense on bombs in the first half – hit Floyd in stride for a 60-yard touchdown. A second stop by the defense led to the second touchdown pass of the day to tight end Troy Niklas.
Palmer didn't have wide receiver John Brown, who was active but did not play with a hamstring injury, but he threw for four touchdowns for a second time this season, the first player in franchise history to do so. The Cardinals attempted 38 passes and also ran it 38 times, and Palmer praised Arians the playcaller afterward.
"That was the best called game I've ever been a part of," said Palmer, who had 374 yards passing. "That was the best called game since junior Pop Warner Pee Wee football when I was playing for the Mission Viejo Cowboys and I was getting Cover One. He was on fire."
Floyd finished with 106 yards on four catches. Fitzgerald had nine grabs for 84 yards and his seventh touchdown of the season, although he did have a crucial fumble inside the Cleveland 10-yard line in the first half.
There were more turnovers in the second half, with Johnson losing a fumble and Palmer throwing an interception, but neither came back to hurt. Plus the Cardinals managed to force a pair of turnovers themselves to make the ratio a slightly more bearable minus-two.
Considering they were minus-three in their two losses, it was a mountain they were happy to climb.
"Any time you're trying to be on a championship team, every game is not going to be a blowout," Johnson said. "There are going to be times when you have to scratch and fight to get those wins. There are times when you are going to go into halftime losing and come back and have those types of wins."
A hoarse Arians – presumably from yelling during the game and not at the half – can work with that.
"That's why you have the game timed for 60 minutes," Arians said.
Images of the Cardinals' Week 8 matchup against the Cleveland Browns