Safety James Sanders races with a fumble with teammates Daryl Washington and Calais Campbell as wingmen during Sanders' 93-yard fumble return in Sunday's 27-6 win.
Kevin Kolb wasn't going to play up his emotions Sunday, even after playing well in beating his former team.
"It feels good, it really does," the quarterback said after the Cardinals stepped on the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-6, at University of Phoenix Stadium. "But the biggest thing is we are 3-0."
That was the message emanating from the Cardinals' locker room Sunday night. The defense had just dismantled the top offense in the NFL with five sacks, no touchdowns and three fumble recoveries – including a back-breaking 93-yard touchdown return -- making a claim to being one of the best units in the league. The offense rediscovered wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, restarted running back Ryan Williams and renewed Kolb.
Declarations, however, were nowhere to be found. For the first time since 1974, the franchise is 3-0, but what that means, other than they still don't have a loss heading into next week's home game against Miami, was being left to anyone besides a Cardinal.
"This is new territory for everyone on this team I think," Fitzgerald said. "Nobody was born in '74 I don't think."
Said linebacker O'Brien Schofield, "No one respects our team, and that's OK. You have to earn respect."
It's hard to think that won't be coming after Sunday. Not only did the Cardinals get the win but they had a signature play, a sequence right at the end of the first half that was a microcosm of the job the defense has been doing. Already harassing the Eagles (2-1) and quarterback Michael Vick and holding a 17-0 lead, the Cardinals suddenly saw the Eagles driving as the clock ticked down.
Safety Kerry Rhodes, who had another excellent performance, made his first huge play when he stoned Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson on the 1-yard line on a 15-yard Vick pass with 16 seconds left. Not only did it keep Philadelphia out of the end zone, it forced them to use its final timeout.
Two incomplete passes later, Vick was set to try one more end-zone pass. Rhodes came on a blind-side blitz and crushed Vick. The ball popped out, and reserve safety James Sanders – playing because starter Adrian Wilson was out with a groin injury – scooped it up.
A convoy of Cardinals led him down the sideline with zeros on the clock, with linebacker Daryl Washington delivering a final block to spring the 93-yard touchdown and the play (video below) that basically sealed the win.
"I didn't even know it was the end of the half," Sanders said. "I realized we were walking off the field getting ready for halftime. It was a good thing too because I needed to catch my breath."
Fitzgerald wore a huge smile after the play, and Kolb marveled, "those are plays that only come around once every five years and our defense does it once every five games."
The one who really needed to catch his breath was Vick, who was under fire all game. Vick completed just 17 of 37 passes for 217 yards, never completed a deep ball and was held to 28 yards rushing. He also was the man who lost two of the fumbles.
"They played a great game," Vick said in an understatement.
The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the NFL with 471 yards a game coming in, finished with just 308.
"We wanted to keep turning the volume up every drive," said linebacker Daryl Washington, who had two of the sacks. "We have swagger and a lot of confidence."
The offense held up its end too, scoring a field goal on the opening possession and making sure the defense had a lead with which to play.
Kolb was solid against his former team. He didn't throw a ton – 17-of-24 for 222 yards – but he had a pair of touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over. Kolb still has not thrown an interception this season.
Nearly as important was the inclusion of Fitzgerald from the get-go. Fitzgerald was targeted nine times and had nine catches, for 114 yards. Fitzgerald's only misstep of the day was a block in the back during an Andre Roberts catch-and-run, turning a 79-yard play inside the Philadelphia 5-yard line into a net gain of 19 yards. The Cardinals, however, recovered.
The passing game wasn't needed nearly as much in the second half, though, as the Cards drained the clock and started leaning on the running game. With starter Beanie Wells out after suffering a toe injury, the Cardinals rode Williams down the stretch. After a miserable first two games, including that nearly crushing fumble a week ago in New England, Williams finished with 83 yards on 13 carries.
"It was a long week," Williams said. "It really felt good to not hear, 'Ryan, hold the ball.' Instead I heard, 'Good run out there, that's what we brought you here for.' "
The Cardinals are now just one of three undefeated teams left in the NFL, along with Atlanta and Houston. It's a start they could have only dreamed of, although it's not a start they are going to obsess about.
"This league can sneak up and you can lose three or four in a row just as fast as you've won three or four in a row," Kolb said. "So we're going to stay humble."