Cardinals running back David Johnson sprints toward his 55-yard touchdown to clinch Sunday's 31-19 win over the Saints Sunday.
Not one Cardinal was surprised. Not one, which says a lot about how Bruce Arians both calls plays and how his players think of him as a coach.
Some were tipped off early, like when Arians went to Carson Palmer with about six minutes left in Sunday's 31-19 win over the Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium and promised the quarterback the Cards were going to stay aggressive even while nursing a small lead.
So when the time came, and the Cardinals had the ball at their own 45-yard line with 1:44 left on second-and-8 and New Orleans down to one timeout, of course there would be a pass and not a simple run. That it resulted in a game-clinching 55-yard catch-and-run touchdown from rookie David Johnson seemed, well, only a little surprising.
"In Coach Arians' car, there is no cruise control," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "You are always going to have
your foot down on the pedal, and as a player, you love that."
Much of the game turned out well for the Cardinals, even after a right knee injury to running back Andre Ellington. While further tests are needed, Arians said the thought was Ellington hurt his posterior cruciate ligament and Palmer expressed optimism Ellington would be coming back at some point.
Even without Ellington, Arians stayed aggressive and turned to a running back.
"You love being offensive on offense," Palmer said. "It's easy to not."
The Cardinals won for the ninth time in 10 home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium, and got the early extra boost knowing Seattle dropped its opener, losing in overtime in St. Louis.
The Cardinals (1-0) weren't as crisp during the game as they wanted to be. The offense, after a fast start, bogged down in the middle quarters. The defense suddenly forgot how they wanted to cover running backs on passing plays, and there were too many issues with personnel on the field – one of which led to a penalty that cost the Cardinals a touchdown.
But in this regard, Arians is like every other coach – it's a lot easier to fix mistakes after a win.
"The things I looked at that are very major (mistakes) are easily correctable," Arians said.
Palmer finished 19-for-37 for 307 yards and three touchdowns, finding wide receiver John "Smokey" Brown and tight end Darren Fells for the other two. Fitzgerald led the team with six catches for 87 yards and the running game provided 120 yards on 25 attempts, showing the depth with veteran Chris Johnson after Ellington went out.
That was one of the differences in the 2015 Cardinals, in fact. Ellington's injury did not undercut the offense, not with both Chris Johnson and David Johnson making plays in the fourth quarter – David Johnson's being the biggest.
"It's a great feeling knowing (Arians) can trust all of us to do our jobs and help out the team," David Johnson said. "All I had to do is run and not get caught from behind, so I just ran for my life."
Said Arians, "we were anxious to call it, because we felt like we knew what was going to happen."
Buying time for the offense was a defense that was hurt by multiple swing and screen passes from Drew Brees (355 yards passing) but that didn't break. The Saints got into the end zone only once, on the drive kept alive when Tyrann Mathieu couldn't run off the field fast enough before a punt.
Twice in the fourth quarter the Saints (0-1) were forced to kick field goals after moving inside the Arizona 30-yard line. On the most important drive – a Drew Butler punt perfectly downed by Jaron Brown and Justin Bethel at the New Orleans 3 – the unit forced a three-and-out to set up Arians' gutsy playcall.
"We made the plays we needed to make," cornerback Patrick Peterson said.
Being aggressive doesn't always pay off. The Cardinals got real aggressive late in the first half, getting within seven or so yards of field-goal range before Arians called for a bomb to rookie J.J. Nelson twice in a row with no timeouts left. Both were incomplete, and when Palmer scrambled for a first down on the next play, time expired without the chance at three points.
It could have hurt. Three more points might have changed what Arians wanted to call on second-and-8 with the game on the line.
But then again, maybe it wouldn't have.
"That's kind of what we do," right tackle Earl Watford said.