Safety Kerry Rhodes breaks up a potential touchdown pass to Raiders tight end Zach Miller during Sunday's 24-23 Arizona victory.
The defense had its players-only meeting last week, and it provided a base for a better showing Sunday in the 24-23 win over the Raiders.
Especially in the red zone.
That became crucial in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders ended up recovering – for a second time – a punt that bounced off a Cardinal, this time at the Arizona 16. But the defense held Oakland to a field goal despite eight plays, including a first-and-goal situation at the Arizona 1-yard line.
"When it counted, we have been good all offseason, all training camp, in the red zone," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "We try to take pride in that. We take pride in ourselves with a lot of things, although it hasn't been working (in all phases) so far. Today, we did what we needed to to get stops."
The Raiders had just one touchdown in five red-zone visits. Perhaps the second biggest stop came in the third quarter, when cornerback Michael Adams missed an interception, allowing receiver Louis Murphy to get away for a 70-yard catch-and-run down to the Arizona 13. A few plays later, kicker Sebastian Janikowski had one of his three missed field goals.
"The guys played with a lot of emotion today," said linebacker Joey Porter, who had his first sack as a Cardinal. "That can take us a long way. I think we've been missing that the last couple of weeks."
The Raiders did have 364 yards of offense, but linebacker Paris Lenon had a sack and interception and safeties Rhodes and Adrian Wilson traded blitzes into the backfield with a decent amount of success.
"The most impressive thing was our defense, with that first-and-goal," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That's discipline. That's fighting. That's toughness, that's responding from last week."
Running back Beanie Wells missed the first two games of the season after hurting his knee. Then he came back Sunday like he hadn't left.
Wells ended up with a team-high 14 carries and a team-best 75 yards, breaking off a 24-yard rush on his very first attempt.
"He'll get more comfortable," Whisenhunt said. "When the big guy gets rolling, you can definitely feel it down there."
Wells wore a smile – as usual – after the game.
"Definitely it was something I was missing," Wells said. "I had a two-week layoff and I'm ready to roll now."
Wells said his conditioning was also good, even with his time on the sideline.
PICKING ON TOLER
Cornerback Greg Toler got a lot of experience on one sequence – the goal-line stand, in which the Raiders three times in four plays tried to beat him on fade patterns to the back of the end zone. The first turned out ugly – Toler lost his footing on third-and-12 from the Arizona 13, and was forced to crash into Darrius Heyward-Bey for pass interference.
After a run, the Cards twice more went after Toler with Hayward-Bey. Both times, Toler broke up the pass, an integral part of the defensive stand.
"Coming into the game (defensive backs) Coach Donnie (Henderson) told us they'd be looking for a lot of flags and they had a lot of speed," Toler said. "Especially in the red zone. Their receivers are up-top guys.
"I'm just trying to stay consistent. Teams are going to try the younger guy, so you want to make as few mistakes as possible."
TO THE HOUSE FOR A HOUSE
Because of a promotion through Lennar Homes, the 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by LaRod Stephens-Howling to open the game won a new house for Dave Johnson of Surprise. It takes the opening kickoff of a game at University of Phoenix Stadium to be returned by the Cardinals to win the prize.
"I had no clue," Stephens-Howling said. "I wish I could win a house for somebody every time I touched the ball, but that is great."
The return was the longest kickoff return for the Cardinals since Roy Green ran one back 106 yards at Dallas Oct. 21, 1979.
The only injury reported was Lenon, who left the game after banging his tailbone, but he did return to the game.
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