Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauls in a touchdown pass Sunday during the Cardinals' 27-13 win over Atlanta.
Bruce Arians insisted it was the Monday practice last week that helped generate the Cardinals' 27-13 win Sunday over the Falcons, a full-padded "training camp" workout that was embraced by all the veterans.
That may be so. It didn't hurt that rookie running back Andre Ellington burst out in his first NFL start for 154 yards rushing, or that quarterback Carson Palmer had more touchdown passes than interceptions, or that the defense for a second straight year made Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan look bad.
The reasons didn't matter as much as the result, though, not with the bye coming up. The Cardinals (4-4) are at .500 at the season's midway point after creating arguably their most complete game of the season.
"You don't want to go into it (with a loss)," said linebacker John Abraham, the former Falcon who notched one of four sacks on
Ryan. "You want to go into it with a good note, not going into a bye week on a bad note. We did that."
And produced a wide smile for coach Bruce Arians.
"It's a lot more fun when you are 4-4 and you win than when you're 3-5 and starting from scratch," he said.
Arians had all but begged for faster starts. He got it from his defense, if not his offense. But that was enough, when the offense – thanks in large part to Ellington -- later caught up. The defense produced the same horror show Ryan lived through last year when the teams met in Atlanta.
Ryan threw four interceptions and rarely had enough time to throw it down the field. Tight end Tony Gonzalez was made human, catching just three (on eight targets) for a mere 26 yards. Running back Steven Jackson was a complete non-factor in his first game back, gaining six yards on 11 carries.
The only reason the Falcons (2-5) got a touchdown pass late was after a questionable fourth-down end zone pass interference call on safety Tyrann Mathieu, guarding Gonzalez.
"A lot of it was the same last year," said safety Rashad Johnson, who had two interceptions. "The guys up front got pressure and were excellent. Matt Ryan never got his feet set and as a centerfielder I was just believing what I saw with my eyes and breaking on it."
A year ago, Ryan threw five interceptions with no touchdowns, yet the Falcons won thanks to the Cardinals' poor offense. Ellington – and an efficient passing game – reversed that problem.
Ellington was dynamic, breaking off an 80-yard touchdown run with the Cardinals already leading, 7-6. His 154 yards came on only 15 carries, although Arians said after the game he would wait until incumbent starter Rashard Mendenhall was 100 percent healthy before evaluating the depth chart.
"When you have a running back and a running game, it helps the quarterback tremendously," Arians said.
The Cardinals rushed for 201 yards as a team – fellow rookie Stepfan Taylor added 38 yards on 14 carries – which was their best total since the Cards had 268 in St. Louis Nov. 27, 2011. Beanie Wells had a team-record 228 yards himself in that game.
With that kind of production, Palmer was able to settle into a better game. Palmer did throw his 14th interception early, forcing a pass rolling right in the first quarter that ultimately cost the Cards three points. But for the first time since the opener, Palmer did not throw a second pick, and completely a 51-yard bomb to newcomer Teddy Williams and touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
"You've got to have a short memory in this position and this game," Palmer said. "You have to forget what happened on the last play, whether it was good or bad."
Palmer finished with 13 completions on a season-low 18 attempts, for 172 yards. And it was plenty. Fitzgerald got four catches – the last being the 800th of his career, making him the youngest ever to reach that mark – for 48 yards.
On the flip side, Ryan attempted 61 passes, many of which were under duress.
Maybe it did flow from that Monday, heavy-duty practice.
"Guys came out and worked," Fitzgerald said, before breaking into a smile. "I can't say that, because I didn't practice (because of his hamstrings). I could feel the energy from the sideline. It was pretty intense."
Something showed up Sunday, although it's doubtful – with an off weekend ahead – Arians will force his players to repeat the feat this week.
"No question (that practice) set the tone," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Guys weren't mumbling under their breath. We understood we had to go out there and get it. These games aren't going to be given to us."