Cardinals running back Chris Johnson barrels through the line of scrimmage during Arizona's win in Denver Thursday night.
DENVER – For two weeks, Chris Johnson had said he wanted to play, that he was frustrated he couldn't get into a game because of his hamstring injury.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's hamstring problem kept him out even longer.
But if there were concerns the two veterans couldn't produce any longer, those thoughts were eased Thursday night as the Cardinals closed out the preseason with a 22-20 win against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Johnson got the 12 touches Bruce Arians wanted, and they were productive – 45 yards on 11
rush attempts, and a catch for 10 yards that netted a first down – while Weatherspoon had three tackles* *while playing into the second half.
"I was going to need it, not playing football for so long," Johnson said.
Added Weatherspoon, who missed all last season with an Achilles tear, "I haven't played football since December 22, 2013. So I'll take it."
Arians said he thought Johnson looked sharp, and noted that Weatherspoon actually asked to play more in the second half when he was only going to play the first two quarters.
"I was pleased with their conditioning and the way they played," Arians said.
The Cardinals (2-2) did not play the starters and some of the backups – neither of the top
two centers, A.Q. Shipley and Lyle Sendlein, for instance – played either. Under that backdrop, rookie quarterback Phillip Sims had a slow start. Eventually, with help from Johnson, Sims directed a touchdown drive culminating with a four-yard scoring pass to running back Paul Lasike.
Sims finished 14-for-22 for 101 yards and the touchdown.
Logan Thomas was even better, going 9-for-10 for 116 yards and a touchdown, including a beautiful 59-yard bomb to rookie wideout J.J. Nelson.
"Both young quarterbacks were solid, they both had good poise," Arians said.
The Cardinals may still only keep two quarterbacks, bringing one of the current third-stringers back on the practice squad. But Arians was proud of their play, after rookie tight end Gerald Christian was lost to a left knee injury early in the game. Rather than play starter Darren Fells or Ifeanyi Momah (who did get in a handful of snaps), the Cards stayed away from tight end plays or used tackle Cameron Bradfield as a tight end.
"I was really, really proud of our young wide receivers and our two young quarterbacks because basically we were drawing plays up in the dirt," Arians said.
Arians said injured tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas should be able to return to practice Wednesday.
"I think you are never really satisfied," Sims said. "You always want one or two or three plays back. But (my preseason) wasn't bad. I can tell you that."
Thomas, who seemed to have slipped behind Sims as the preseason went on, was happy he finished with two strong performances in Oakland and Denver.
"It's a business," Thomas said of the looming roster cutdown. "Can't get up, can't get down and you never know what to expect. I'll be playing it by ear."
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro also missed two extra points for the Cardinals (2-2), but Arians said without being asked that he was not concerned about his kicker.
Arians meets with the media again Friday, but the Cardinals are not expected to make their cuts until after that press conference. Teams must be down to 53 by 1 p.m. Arizona time on Saturday.
In addition to Christian, CB Jimmy Legree (right calf) left the game and did not return. Arians said the Cards won't know the severity of Christian's injury until later, but Christian looked to be in considerable pain when he first went down on the field.