Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling breaks downfield during the Cardinals' 17-13 win over the Rams Sunday in St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS – Derek Anderson chuckled, recounting what turned out to be his game-winning touchdown drive Sunday.
"I needed that more than people know," the Cardinals' quarterback said with a weary grin.
So did the Cards.
In an emotional roller-coaster of a opener at the Edward Jones Dome, the Cardinals ended up holding off the Rams, 17-13, for a victory that was at once much needed and never certain. The new parts of the Cardinals clearly hadn't come together completely – that was clear by a handful of Anderson misfires, penalties and turnovers – but it was enough.
"When we had to make the plays," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "we pulled them out."
There was wide receiver Steve Breaston's early candidate for play of the year, running down Rams defensive lineman Clifton Ryan on a fumble return that should have been a sure back-breaking touchdown in the third quarter and jabbing the ball loose for a turnaround fumble the Cards recovered.
There was Anderson recovering from his rocky – at best – mid-game – to throw for 101 yards (because of penalties) on the game-winning drive. There was safety Adrian Wilson, who blocked a field goal for the first time in his career, sacked Rams rookie quarterback Bradford once and intercepted two passes – the last coming in the end zone on the final play of the game.
That doesn't even include Breaston's career-high 132 yards receiving, the 49 yards rushing by third-string back LaRod Stephens-Howling with Beanie Wells out with a knee injury, or a defense that made sure the Rams couldn't get too far away.
"You get numb to (these games)," Breaston said. "It always seems like it comes down to the last play. But I think we've done it enough, we have the character to come through."
The Cards (1-0) are even in first place with the surprising Seattle Seahawks, after the Seahawks manhandled preseason favorite San Francisco. The 49ers' result just emphasized what the Cards felt when it was over – they just wanted the victory.
Anderson completed 22-of-41 passes for 297 yards and his touchdown, a 21-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald in the corner of the end zone. It was one of 15 times Anderson threw it to Fitzgerald in the game, although the two could only hook up three times, and Anderson acknowledged "We all know we need to play better than that."
The defense had enough. Wilson said the Cardinals didn't do anything special to attack Bradford, and it was surprising the Rams called on the rookie to throw 55 passes in such a close game. His throw that was picked off by free safety Kerry Rhodes with 1:28 remaining should have been enough.
But running back Tim Hightower fumbled on the very next play – his second lost fumble of the game, although replays seemed to show he was down – and the Cards had to make another defensive stand. This time Wilson sealed it with a pick.
Whisenhunt said the obvious, that he wasn't happy with the fumbles. But, clearly happy with a win, simply added, "Our expectation is we will get better."
"It wasn't pretty by any means," Anderson said, "but we'll take it."
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