Safety Kerry Rhodes races in with a fumble return for a touchdown with teammate Darryl Washington alongside during Sunday's 30-20 win over New Orleans.
Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett weren't doing much talking to the media last week.
They weren't doing much talking to anyone else, apparently, either.
"Whenever you came up to try to talk to them, guys like Adrian or Darnell, it's 'A-Dub ….'" cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said, before pausing for effect. "That's what you get, you get silence. They just have a little thing on the wall (in the meeting room), says, 'Shut the F up and just play.' "
The sign was hidden to the world, in a meeting room far from the media's eyes, although it might as well have been in neon above the heads of Wilson and Dockett last week and many of the other defensive players. The storyline coming into Sunday's 30-20 win over the Saints was rookie quarterback Max Hall, but it was the defense that felt the burden of a team in need.
"With all the little adversity going on, everything was analyzed," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "It was, 'Which one is it, why can't we stop the run, why can't we stop the pass, why can't we get off the field, why are we giving up so many points?' It was the week of 'Whys?' and 'How comes?' We looked in the mirror and said, 'Why don't we just play better?' "
Sure. Why not?
Why not somehow come up with your best collective game against the dangerous offense of the defending Super Bowl champions, against a quarterback completing nearly 75 percent of his passes.
So they gave Drew Brees fits by making sure he scored just one touchdown during four trips to the red zone. And they changed the game with a host of turnovers.
The first came with the Cards trailing, 10-3, when the special teams first downed a punt at the New Orleans 1-yard line. Brees' screen to running back Ladell Betts bounced off his hands and into the hands of linebacker Paris Lenon, who grabbed it at the 2 to set up the Cards' first TD.
Then the defense saved up until the fourth quarter. The Cards had built a 16-13 lead by then – in part because the Saints couldn't crack the goal line in the red zone – when Dockett stepped in. His pressure on Brees forced a quick pass to Betts that resulted in a one-yard loss. Then Dockett stripped the ball from Betts on the next play, allowing safety Kerry Rhodes to swoop in and return it 27 yards for a touchdown and a 10-point lead.
"People say we're the worst defense," Dockett said. "We don't believe that. This last week, we were just focused. There wasn't a lot of talking. You just look at guys and it was like, 'Enough is enough.' "
Then cornerback Greg Toler picked off Brees on the next drive – "We feel like the two teams that beat us, they didn't catch us on our best day," Toler said, in a massive understatement – and momentum had shifted.
The Cards' defense has had games like this, against good opponents in which the Cards come across like a defensive powerhouse. In some ways, Sunday's game echoed the Saints' Super Bowl-winning defense. New Orleans gained yards – 358 total – but the Cards found ways to take away the ball.
It didn't hurt that the run defense came to play, allowing just 85 yards on the ground (and 49 came on the third-quarter drive that ended with a missed field goal).
"Our defense really did a great job responding to all situations," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Including the need to score.
The cherry on top came at the end, after the defense did get zinged by Brees on a 35-yard TD to make it closer than it should have been. Brees got the ball back with just 24 second left deep in his own territory, and threw a pass to the overdue Rodgers-Cromartie.
DRC could have gone down at the New Orleans 28, and let Hall run out the clock. He probably should have. But he was thinking about how the Saints beat up and blew out the Cards in the playoffs. He was thinking about his own slow start this season, and the way the defense had played.
It was almost as if he needed to score. That was the kind of message the Cardinals needed to send. And as DRC had learned, no words were needed.
"It still wasn't perfect," Lenon said. "There were plays you wish you had back. But collectively, we made a good effort. That's a little taste of what we feel we are capable of."
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