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Iron Effort By Cardinals Defense, And Steelers Aftermath

There is a saying long-time Cardinals strength coach Buddy Morris had, and it rang true to Dennis Gardeck on Sunday after his team knocked off the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

"You don't rise to the occasion," the linebacker said when asked about the defense's crucial fourth-down goal-line stand that helped change the game. "You sink to the level of your preparation.

"We put in the work every week."

The defense was rightfully criticized after a hard day against the Rams, in which they gave up more than 200 rushing yards. But against the Steelers a week later, it was the defense that made sure the Cardinals had a chance to stay in the game against a potential playoff team, on the road, in wacky weather, until the offense caught up.

No one will confuse Kenny Pickett or Mitch Trubisky with Matthew Stafford, but the way the Cardinals made life hard every time the Steelers had the ball all but made the game over once James Conner scored his first touchdown of the game to make it 17-3. The Steelers weren't coming back from that. Not in this game.

"We talk about how our response is the most important thing," Gardeck said. "External factors don't matter and what happened last week is an external factor. Our ability to respond was awesome to see. This team is resilient."

-- The lightning delays were a first for me. But the Cardinals responded well. The first extended halftime, so they were already in the locker room. But to have to leave the field in the middle of the third quarter for nearly an hour could've been tough.

"I was really amped up still," defensive lineman Kevin Strong Jr. said. "We were dancing in here. We all couldn't wait to get back out there."

Said coach Jonathan Gannon, "They handled it really well."

-- For all those who have talked through the years about how the tight end is never used by the Cardinals: 11 of Kyler Murray's 13 completions went to tight ends on Sunday. Eight went to Trey McBride, who is becoming a star. The Cardinals went to him twice for the first touchdown – once where it looked like he had it long enough but replay said he lost it when he went to the ground, and then the next play.

"It was frustrating," McBride said. "I thought it was a touchdown. I still think it was a touchdown. But they say that the ball never lies."

-- In large part I am sure of having a bigger lead and wanting to run the ball a lot, Murray was under center 24 times on Sunday – two more than he had been in total the first three games of his return. And that doesn't count the three kneeldowns at the end of the game.

-- It has been an up-and-down year for James Conner. Played great, dealt with injuries, probably didn't get the ball enough last week. But it was so cool to see him have that kind of game in Pittsburgh. Truly a movie-type of ending.

-- Wide receiver Greg Dortch's 19-yard catch to convert a third down will get lost in all the big moments, but it was a hell of a play.

-- The Cardinals, not surprisingly, set a season-best with 38 rushing attempts. They gained 150 rushing yards against a defense that had allowed only 85.8 rush yards a game since Week 8.

-- Matt Prater is a long-range GOAT check: Prater made a 51-yard field goal in the first half, tying his own franchise record (2021) for most 50-yard field goals in a season at seven. Prater has tried a 50-yard field goal in four straight games and eight games this season, making 7-of-9.

-- Michael Carter didn't have a huge role, but he had a huge play. His 19-yard run on third-and-six early in the 99-yard TD drive may have turned the game. Trey McBride went to work after that.

-- The Cardinals reinserted Trystan Colon at starting left guard Sunday. He had been out with a knee injury but hadn't started in his first game back. Even with Starling Thomas V out, the Cardinals stuck with their all-rookie cornerback situation, starting practice-squad call-up Divaad Wilson with Kei'Trel Clark.

-- Running back Emari Demercado was hammered high during an overthrow early in the game by Steelers linebacker Elandon Roberts. He was down in a scary situation, but later walked off on his own power. He cleared his concussion check but did not return with a neck injury.

-- The Cardinals had two games before Sunday since 1980 last more than four hours, and both of those went to overtime. There was a home 20-20 tie against the Giants on Oct. 24, 1983, and then a 37-34 win over the then-Redskins in Washington on Nov. 10, 1996 – a date that may be familiar for Cardinals QB Boomer Esiason throwing for 522 yards. Officially, Sunday's game lasted four hours and 18 minutes.

-- With a 10-for-17 third-down conversion day, the Cardinals set season-bests for third-down conversions and third-down percentage.

-- McBride, with eight catches, has tied the franchise record for tight end receptions in a season with 56. He also surpassed 600 yards receiving this season, becoming the first tight end to gain that many since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

OK, this plane is taking off way later than expected, but always an easier flight after a win. That's enough for tonight. The bye week awaits.

Cardinals linebacker Josh Woods celebrates the team's fourth-down stop at the 1 on Sunday against the Steelers.
Cardinals linebacker Josh Woods celebrates the team's fourth-down stop at the 1 on Sunday against the Steelers.