Cornerback William Gay (22) and linebacker Daryl Washington (58) celebrate the final incomplete pass in the Cards' 20-16 win Sunday.
Paris Lenon stood near the 10-yard-line, a few feet behind the line of scrimmage, looking across at Russell Wilson. He saw Seattle's rookie quarterback trying to figure out how to orchestrate the game-winning touchdown.
Behind Lenon was a 20-16 lead. In front of him was the rest of the season.
But with 52 seconds left in Sunday's season opener for the Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks, all the inside linebacker could think was: "Here we go again."
The Cardinals' last defensive stand against the Seahawks looked eerily similar to how last season's opener concluded – from the penalties to the final play.
A year ago inside University of Phoenix Stadium, then-rookie Cam Newton marched the Panthers down to the Cardinals' 11 – a roughing-the-passer penalty helped move the Panthers from the Cards' 45 to their 11 – but the Cardinals stood their ground on four straight plays and Kevin Kolb took a knee on the final play to give the Cardinals a 28-21 win.
"It was déjà vu, but you have to step up and make a play and we did," said Lenon, who had two sacks.
On Sunday, the Seahawks had the Cardinals on their heels with a minute left. Seattle faced a fourth-and-6 from the Cards' 27 and Wilson, who was making his first career start, targeted receiver Sidney Rice. Cornerback Patrick Peterson was flagged for pass interference, moving Seattle to the 13.
The Cardinals held on the next two plays, both pass knockdowns by Michael Adams.
But another pass interference flag, this one against cornerback William Gay on third-and-10, gave the Seattle seven free yards and a first down. After a two-yard run by Marshawn Lynch, the Cardinals stopped three straight passes by Wilson to the right side. On the final one, Gay redeemed himself, knocking down Wilson attempt to Braylon Edwards. And as he did in 2011, Kolb, this time in for the injured John Skelton, took a knee to secure the win.
"We just wanted to come out and execute, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what we get put into," Gay said. "All we ask for is a field of grass and we got what? Four yards and we got a chance to defend it."
The Cardinals didn't make life easy on themselves. From the fourth play of the game, when Peterson was called for a pass interference that turned into a 28-yard gain for Seattle, putting it inside Cardinals' territory, the Cardinals' defense found itself playing behind the eight ball at times.
"We have to do a better job of not getting there too early and keep our hands off the receiver," Adams said.
But to them, that's part of the beauty of the game.
Even as the penalties increased and the delays in the game got longer as the replacement officials huddled more often, the Cardinals' defense didn't let it distract them or get the better of their emotions. There wasn't any yelling, there wasn't any barking, there wasn't any harping.
"We ain't designed like that," Lenon said. "This defense, this team ain't designed that way. There were some frustrating situations. Ain't nothing to complain about. You face that situation, you got to stand up or you're going to fold. And I don't think folding is part of our DNA."
The DNA of this year's unit is interchangeable.
All preseason, defensive coordinator Ray Horton stressed the needed for versatility. He wanted all his players to learn all the positions.
In the third quarter, linebacker Sam Acho was lined up wide across from Edwards. It was part of a blitz package, Acho said, but if the play had gone to Edwards, the linebacker would've been ready to channel his inner defensive back.
And Adams, the 5-foot-8 cornerback who didn't see many practice reps this week but played significant minutes because of Jamell Fleming's injury, made three of the game's most important plays in the final minute.
"If you want to have a great defense, you're going to face adversity," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Sometimes you are going to have sudden change and be on the 1-yard-line. You still have to go out there and stop the other team. Like I said, it's all about character and what we're trying to establish."