LaRod Stephens-Howling crosses the goalline for the game-winning touchdown in overtime of Sunday's 19-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Reserve guard Deuce Lutui went up to LaRod Stephens-Howling at the beginning of the fourth quarter Sunday and told the running back he was going to have a chance to win the game.
"I can't lie: He actually promised me," Stephens-Howling said. "He promised me I'd win the game."
Surely, Lutui couldn't have envisioned a fourth quarter featuring the Cards' lone touchdown drive of regulation, or a defense that suddenly can't be beat. He definitely couldn't have seen the déjà vu of a missed field goal at the end of fourth quarter, when Dallas kicker Dan Bailey left his 49-yarder short, forcing overtime.
Lutui forecasted Stephens-Howling correctly, though, with a twisting, winding 52-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that gave the Cardinals another emotional 19-13 overtime win – just like the last time they played at University of Phoenix Stadium when they beat the Rams.
"Overtime games here are crazy," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
It's seemingly unpredictable, although given the opponent, maybe not.
The Cardinals (5-7) have now beat the Cowboys (7-5) three straight times, all at home, all with fantastic endings. In 2008, it was a punt block for a touchdown in overtime. Last season, it was a fourth-and-15 conversion to spark a game-winning field goal on the final play.
It's possible, given the circumstances, the most recent was the most improbable. The Cardinals got Kevin Kolb back as their starting quarterback, yet the offense was stuck in mud for a half, gaining just 49 yards in the first two quarters, including a net of minus-9 in the second quarter.
Then? "It was definitely a game of two halves," Kolb said.
Kolb, who looked rusty and inaccurate in the first half, suddenly was solid. The Cardinals went on a long drive to start the second half of 73 yards, and while they couldn't finish with a touchdown, there was relief. Larry Fitzgerald never really got going -- four catches for 55 yards – but fellow receiver Andre Roberts clicked, catching all six of the passes Kolb threw his way for 111 yards.
Roberts made a 40-yard catch to set up the Cards' first touchdown, a four-yard run by running back Beanie Wells. And he made a 16-yard reception on the game's penultimate play, setting up the Stephens-Howling scamper.
The Cardinals held the Cowboys to 75 yards rushing, and while quarterback Tony Romo had a good day – 28-for-42, 299 yards, a touchdown – he was sacked five times and couldn't get his team to the final score they desperately needed.
"You could tell (the Cowboys) were just thinking, 'Win,' " defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We just played ball, dominated."
Cardinals receiver Early Doucet dropped a third-down pass that would have given the Cards a first down with a little more than three minutes left, and the Cowboys took over on their own 32-yard line. Seven plays later, a Romo-to-Dez Bryant 15-yard pass set Dallas up for the Bailey try.
That's when it got odd. Romo came up to the line but deliberately made sure everyone was lined up before spiking it with seven seconds left. Then, just as Bailey went to try the field goal – a kick he followed through on and made – the Cowboys called time out.
"We felt like the play clock was running down," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "We just wanted to make sure he had a real clean opportunity at it."
Said Whisenhunt, "I was glad they iced the kicker there at the end so I didn't have to do it."
Bailey, who missed a 53-yarder earlier in the game, indeed was iced. His second try never was close, coming up short and to the left. The Cardinals had life.
"You have to play the game out," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "It's human nature to want the easiest thing possible, but this is the National Football League and teams are entirely too good for that to be the outcome every time."
The Cardinals won the toss and got the ball first in the sudden-death world of NFL overtime. Kolb was up for it. He finished 16-for-25 for 247 yards and a touchdown, but it was overtime that was the foundation – he was 3-for-3 for 82 yards and the score on that final drive.
The call was a screen to Stephens-Howling, and while he didn't have a lot of linemen blocking – the Cowboys' blitzed – it was a timely call from offensive coordinator Mike Miller.
"Mike dialed it up at the exact right time, and LaRod felt it got bottled up and he kicked it out wide," Kolb said. "I tried to hold on to it as long as possible so he could make a play and then he does what he does best."
Kolb said he figures he'll be sore after not playing for a month. "I have no energy left because it was an emotional second half, but everything else will be good," he said with a smile.
The Cards completed their last home game in overtime, by the same winning score, when Patrick Peterson raced 99 yards with a punt return into the same end zone. Stephens-Howling's play won't go into the record books, but the celebration was equal.
"To have them trust me at the end was a great feeling," Stephens-Howling said. "To have your teammates jumping on you or picking you up (in celebration), that's what you play for."