Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie emphatically shows off his game-changing interception Sunday in a win over Houston.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie jumped the route and, in the process, may have jump-started the Cardinals.
Maybe the cornerback did even more than that. His 49-yard interception return for a touchdown – the winning points in the Cardinals' wish-the-heart-stopping-ending-wasn't-necessary 28-21 win over Houston Sunday – could end up with much further-reaching effects than what was simply analyzed in the locker room.
"I wouldn't say (the play) saved the season," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
It may have, though. Much of the immediate publicity afterward went, rightfully so, to the beefy linemen who stuffed the Texans from a yard out from a game-tying touchdown in the waning seconds. But the way the Texans had been moving the ball prior to DRC's pick, it would have been easy to forecast Houston dinking and dunking its way to a clock-eating field goal to break a 21-21 tie.
A loss would have left the Cardinals limping after a quarter of the season at 1-3. Now, at 2-2, they are set up for yet another crucial game at division rival Seattle, thanks to the Seahawks also crawling back to relevance with a blowout home win Sunday and the 49ers torpedoed at home with a bad loss to Atlanta.
The NFC West remains wide open – thanks in part to DRC.
Believing DRC would have made such a play might have been harder to project. He was wearing a cast on two of his fingers on the right hand, protecting a fracture but making catching an interception more difficult.
Besides, Rodgers-Cromartie hadn't exactly shined in the first three games, something of which he was well aware. All the way to the end zone.
"As soon as he cocked his hand back, I was expecting interception," said Rodgers-Cromartie, who said he was sitting on the comeback route by Kevin Walter. "This season I haven't been making plays and I like to. Just finally when one comes, shoot, the feeling overtakes you."
Rodgers-Cromartie high-stepped the last 15 or 20 yards into the end zone, and coach Ken Whisenhunt said he'd be having a talk with his second-year man. But Whisenhunt could only have so much irritation for a player who stepped forward when the Cards needed it most – on a third-and-8 play at the Houston 42-yard line, a potential game-losing field goal becoming closer to reality.
"There's a legend with the Cardinals where Larry Wilson intercepted some passes with a broken hand," Whisenhunt said, a nod to the Cards' Hall of Fame safety who made a couple of picks once upon a time with casts on both hands. "The question this week was what could Dominique do with a fractured finger."
If not save the season, then maybe DRC saved the game.
The Cardinals had that 21-0 lead disappear behind an offense that stopped moving and a defense that suddenly couldn't slow the Texans.
"In the second half it was just like we were sitting on a stool with a rope around our necks about to hang ourselves," linebacker Clark Haggans said.
Rodgers-Cromartie changed that in a hurry, putting the Cards back into position to get their first win at University of Phoenix Stadium. But his heroics may have faded if not for the back half of the defensive highlight film, the goal-line stand that took place at the same end zone where the Cards famously stoned the 49ers on "Monday Night Football" last season.
DRC was a solo act. The goal-line stand was a collaboration, a mess of bodies in which no defensive player could point to any one guy for the key collision with Texans running back Chris Brown.
"That's what defensive players live for, I think, having the game rest on your shoulders," defensive lineman Alan Branch said. "I like things that test your manhood. We definitely showed a lot of manhood on that stand."
But that score still only would have tied the game, because DRC's play gave the defense at least a sliver of wiggle room.
There are still holes with which the Cards must deal. Quarterback Kurt Warner was disappointed after a day in which he had a 109.8 passing rating because the offense couldn't continue scoring in the second half. And now comes a stretch of games in which the Cards could prove much – either way.
After the trip to Seattle the Cards have a "Sunday Night Football" national TV date against the powerhouse Giants in New York. After a home game against Carolina comes a visit to Chicago.
But thanks to the defense, and thanks to Rodgers-Cromartie, those games carry more weight than they would have with a loss Sunday. And that's good enough for now.
"Right now we have to have humble hearts because it don't get no easier," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "We have to grow up fast. Like right now. Like when we go to sleep and wake up. We've got to be ready."
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