Linebacker Daryl Washington (58) hauls down Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for one of the Cardinals' seven sacks Sunday during a 22-6 win.
Daryl Washington just wanted to fit in with the defense in his first game back from a four-game suspension, but afterward, in a happy Cardinals locker room, it was clear it was so much more than that.
Washington's stat line burst off the page – a team-leading nine tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and an interception – and he admitted, "I didn't anticipate a game like this."
Then again, the Cardinals' entire defense, dominant most of the game, could have said the same.
It's one thing to hamstring a rookie quarterback in his first game as the Cards' defense did the week before in Tampa. It's another to befuddle Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers as the unit did Sunday in a 22-6 win at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It wasn't as if Newton and the Panthers couldn't move the ball but the Cardinals (3-2) came up with impactful plays time and again. There were
seven sacks of Newton, the franchise's most since piling up eight against Dallas in a 1987 game, before the team even moved to Arizona. There were four turnovers, including interceptions not only from Washington but Patrick Peterson and Karlos Dansby. Defensive end Calais Campbell had a pair of sacks – one forcing a fumble picked up by teammate Antoine Cason, the other ending as a safety.
Offensively, the Cards had too many more hiccups, including three Carson Palmer interceptions. But the defense's gaudy numbers were the tangible proof of why the Cardinals were able to win a game that was left in doubt much of the afternoon.
"That's how we're built and that's the way we want to be," coach Bruce Arians said.
The belief was that Washington's return would make a difference. The Pro Bowler claimed he needs to get in better condition, and while that isn't shocking seeing that he wasn't allowed on the field for four weeks, it certainly didn't look like a problem as the game unfolded.
"That guy, he makes everyone else around him better because he's so good people have to concentrate on him," Campbell said.
Peterson joked that Washington stole the interception from him, believing he was about to jump the route himself, and then said it was the "same old D-Wash running sideline to sideline."
It couldn't have come at a better time. Arians said he thought the second half of offense was better than the Cardinals have had in a while, but it didn't produce nearly what the Cards hope for. After three first-half points and Palmer's interception issues, Arians did run the ball seven times in
a second-half opening 10-play touchdown drive, one more rushing attempt than the Cards had the entire first half.
In the end, the Cards had just 250 yards of offense. Larry Fitzgerald had just three catches for 43 yards while two of Palmer's throws were admittedly forces trying to get Fitzgerald the ball. Arians said the third, a jump ball to Michael Floyd, was on Floyd who has to break the ball up if he can't get it.
"You want to get (Fitz) touches, but I cannot force the ball to him to get those touches," Palmer said. "I just need to do a better job spreading the ball around."
The Cardinals were nursing a 12-6 lead going into the fourth quarter when Washington ended what should have been a Carolina drive for points, picking the ball off at his own 9-yard line. On the next Carolina possession, Washington sacked Newton on third down.
That allowed the ensuing possession to be a rare extended drive for the Cardinals, 11 plays that still needed kicker Jay Feely to convert a 50-yard field goal, but three points that boosted the lead to nine. Then Campbell stepped in, sacking Newton once again after the Panthers (1-3) reached the Arizona 40, popping the ball loose and having it fall into the hands of rarely-used cornerback Antoine Cason, who raced 43 yards back to the Carolina 9.
Three plays later, Palmer finished the game on an uptick, hitting tight end Jim Dray for his first NFL touchdown on a seven-yard pass.
Yet the game got the kind of sendoff it probably deserved when Dansby picked off Newton with a little less than two minutes left.
"Phenomenal, lights out and not surprising whatsoever," Palmer said of the defensive performance.
Dansby matched his inside linebacker mate Washington with two sacks and an interception. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was the other one to notch a sack in the game for Arizona.
"Hey man," Dansby said with a grin, "we're just getting started."