Wide receiver Anquan Boldin snares what will turn out to be a 39-yard touchdown catch behind Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin in the Cards' 30-17 win.
Kurt Warner came back, the Cardinals came home and the NFC West race came into focus.
And while the Minnesota Vikings had been surging and quarterback Brett Favre had moved into the MVP race, the Cards stepped into the middle of the talk of NFC favorites by dominating a 30-17 win at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday night.
"That's the biggest thing," wide receiver Steve Breaston said. "We're in the driver's seat. I don't see no reason why we have to look over our shoulders for no one. If we are who we say are, we're the team you have to go after. We're the team you have to beat."
With the 49ers losing earlier in the day to Seattle, the Cardinals (8-4) now boast a three-game lead in the division with four to play. They will clinch the division championship next week if they win in San Francisco on "Monday Night Football."
The perfect day came about only because the Cards had one of their best all-around performances of the season.
"We don't always get it right," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "but we respond in the correct way."
The defense, stung by the Titans' last-second rally last week, stepped forward to hold Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson to just 19 yards on 13 carries and also force Favre into his multi-interception game of the season.
The offense got Warner back for the first time since he suffered his concussion, with the veteran completing 22-of-32 passes for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Warner did injure his hip late in the game (Warner said it was the opposite hip from the one he had surgery on in the offseason) but said his head was fine.
"I took a couple of good shots," Warner said.
The Vikings (10-2) didn't sack Warner, however, breaking a string of 23 straight games Minnesota had brought down the quarterback.
"You kind of get tired of hearing the disrespect," said left tackle Jeremy Bridges, who filled in for the injured Mike Gandy with impressive results. "We kind of took that to heart."
Warner played as if he hadn't missed any time, picking up from the stretch where he had throw nine touchdown passes and no interceptions in 10 quarters previous. He found wide receiver Anquan Boldin for two touchdowns and, taking repeated deep shots to Larry Fitzgerald for the first time this season, hooked up with Fitzgerald for a 34-yard touchdown.
And that was just in the first half.
Fitzgerald finished with eight catches for 143 yards, Boldin – who was shut out in the second half – still have seven catches for 98 yards.
The Cardinals could have sunk into an early self-made hole, when Tim Hightower lost a fumble after ripping off a 10-yard run on the first possession of the game. The Vikings moved down for a touchdown – Favre hitting tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for a three-yard touchdown – to make for early nervous moments.
But the Cards' defense settled down, and after forcing a Vikings' three-and-out on the second possession, Breaston broke out a 64-yard punt return down to the Minnesota 2-yard line. It was Breaston's longest punt return since the 73-yard touchdown against the Steelers in 2007, and it set up Warner's first TD pass to Boldin.
Favre came into the game with 24 touchdown passes and just three interceptions and built on that with his first scoring throw.
But the Cards' defense led Favre to forcing passes in the second half. Linebacker Karlos Dansby and cornerback Michael Adams each picked off Favre for Favre's first multi-interception game of the season. Both led to Neil Rackers field goals.
"We felt he was he was still the gunslinger Brett Favre," Adams said. "He was still going to throw some up."
Favre built some garbage-time stats on the late drive, getting a final 31-yard touchdown pass late. Favre finished 30-of-45 for 275 yards.
"It was a very good team win," Whisenhunt said. "There were a bunch of guys (outside) that didn't believe we would win, but we did in that room, and that's what was important."
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