Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie makes the first of two interceptions during Sunday's 31-24 victory over the Lions in Detroit.
DETROIT – A division title might have been inevitable, even if there was brief hesitation after the Cardinals visited San Francisco.
Maybe a win against the struggling Lions was inevitable too.
Sunday, the Cardinals won a game that looked headed for a blowout but turned out to be anything but, and used that 31-24 win at Ford Field as part one of their NFC West-clinching weekend when the 49ers lost later in the day in Philadelphia, 27-13.
"A win is a win and we're one step closer to our goal," quarterback Kurt Warner said prior to the end of the 49ers-Eagles game. "Sometimes, you win ugly."
After building an early 17-0 lead, the Cardinals went ahead 24-17 in the fourth quarter only to allow the Lions (2-12) to tie it once again. But when it mattered most, the Cards responded.
After the tying touchdown, rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the kickoff 39 yards to the Arizona 42-yard line. From there, it took the Cards' offense – admittedly inconsistent on the day – just five plays to score the game-winning points.
Rookie running back Beanie Wells -- who had his first 100-yard day in front of many family members, including his young son – keyed the drive with a 34-yard run down to the Detroit 11. Two plays later, Warner found Anquan Boldin on the Cards' patented wide receiver screen for a five-yard touchdown and a collective sigh of relief.
"We had our moments," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "but what I am most proud of is the way our team fought through it."
Wells finished with 110 yards on 17 carries. Warner completed 23-of-37 passes for 233 yards and two scores, although he threw a crucial interception that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown by safety Louis Delmas which sparked the Lions' rally.
"They made plays," safety Adrian Wilson said. "The long interception return. The long touchdown run (by Maurice Morris). All that stuff is stuff we work on all the time. It's a correctable win. That's what it is."
The Lions were seemingly dead after cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made his second interception of the game, giving the Cards – up 17-0 – the ball at the Detroit 20 early in the third quarter. Drew Stanton had replaced Daunte Culpepper at quarterback for Detroit, and boos rained down from the stands.
But Delmas grabbed his pick the goal line and raced for Detroit's first points. After an Arizona punt, Lions Morris took a handoff and sprinted 64 yards for a touchdown.
Before the third quarter ended, the Lions had tied the game at 17.
"Here's the deal," defensive tackle Bryan Robinson said. "I've been on the opposite side of this so many times. They fight to the end. I definitely think we'll be talking about Detroit winning their division in a couple of years."
Two early turnovers by Detroit put the Cards in control. The Lions' Dennis Northcutt muffed a punt at his own 15-yard line early in the game, with Stephens-Howling jumping on the fumble at the Detroit 13. Five players later, Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for a circus 1-yard touchdown pass – the ball was tipped by a Lions defender – and the Cards made it 10-0 after Rodgers-Cromartie's first interception on a long throw by Culpepper.
The Cards were in control, although that took a blow when Warner fumbled right before halftime, costing the Cards a good chance at a field goal, and disappeared in the third quarter. Punt returner Steve Breaston even fumbled away a punt for the first time in his career, although it turned out not to hurt the Cards.
But the victory was enough. The Cards finished 6-2 on the road, their most road wins since getting six in 1963. And they finished 3-0 in the Eastern time zone after going 0-5 in the regular-season under such circumstances in 2008.
"A win is a win," defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. "We could have played a lot better. But I'm going to walk out of here with my head held high."
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