Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson gets a celebratory hug from defensive coordinator James Bettcher after Jefferson's game-clinching interception during Monday's win over the Ravens.
Tony Jefferson was already ticked off, allowing a lob pass over the top to tight end Crockett Gillmore to even put the Cardinals in a place they didn't want to be.
So as the Baltimore Ravens tried to beat the safety one more time with Gillmore in the end zone – and the Cardinals nursing an eight-point lead – Jefferson was ready, hauling a game-saving interception Willie Mays-style.
"He had caught two passes on me (on the drive) already and I knew they were going to go back at me," Jefferson said, after the Cardinals were able to exhale following a 26-18 win Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"There was no way I was going to let him catch the ball on that one."
So ended a game that was close when it probably shouldn't have been. The Cardinals had a 16-point lead with eight minutes left, undone by a blocked punt and an inability to burn enough clock on offense. The Ravens (1-6) got as far as the Arizona 9-yard line, but Jefferson's end zone interception capped a win after the Cardinals (5-2) had lost the previous two games that were undecided late.
"Played to the final whistle and made a big play at the end," coach Bruce Arians said. "We wanted this kind of game. Be in one of these types of games, win it, and kind of exorcise 'Can we win it at the end' type of thing."
It looked to be anything but after the Cardinals had maneuvered 11 plays and 79 yards for a Carson Palmer-to-John Brown touchdown with 8:08 remaining. Running back Chris Johnson was en route to a 122-yard rushing night, including a controversial 62-yard run in which Johnson was never tackled to the ground but on which the Ravens thought he was down. The Cards rushed for 150 yards in the game, averaging 5.4 yards a carry.
The Brown TD gave the Cards a 16-point lead. It should've been 17, but the extra point from kicker Chandler Catanzaro hit off the upright.
The Cardinals still forced a three-and-out. The game was in hand, time drained to under five minutes. But when it came time for the Cards to punt, Drew Butler's kick was blocked when the Cards couldn't pick up a twist rush and the Ravens ended up with the ball on the Arizona 1. They scored the next play, and added a two-point conversion.
"We probably didn't really play well enough to win the football game, but we are always in them," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.
There was still a chance for the Cardinals to ice the win with a few first downs. The Cards got a couple, but fizzled hard on second-and-10 from their own 44. With the Ravens out of timeouts and 2:32 left, Arians chose to throw – "We tried to finish it with a pass," Arians said – and not only was it incomplete, but quarterback Carson Palmer was called for intentional grounding.
"That's a bad play by me," said Palmer, who didn't have many on a night where he completed 20-of-29 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
It meant the Ravens got the ball back in a one-score game. Soon, they were in the red zone, threatening to make it a miserable night for the home crowd.
"Before the drive started, I said, 'No matter what happens, no matter how much time they get, they have to score eight points,' " defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "With our defense, that isn't going to happen."
The defense just took it to the very end, before Jefferson made his pick.
"We can play in these 60-minute games," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "Our coach has been harping on that the last couple of weeks. As a team, we still feel like we haven't really played our best game yet."
But there the Cards are, still in first place in the NFC West, with a trip to Cleveland next prior to a bye weekend. It wasn't the way the Cardinals hoped to play in a close game, but it worked out in the end.
"We wanted to make sure there was a damn good traffic jam," Arians said with a grin.
Images from the Monday Night Football matchup in Week 7