Some of the Cards' return touchdowns (Clockwise from upper left): Kerry Rhodes against the Saints, LaRod Stephens-Howling against the Raiders, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against the Saints and Michael Adams against the Vikings.
Cornerback Michael Adams stood on the sideline in Minnesota, watching the Cardinals struggle at first and then allow the Vikings to open the scoring.
So he went to teammate LaRod Stephens-Howling and said, "Let's take this back."
"We are used to seeing him do it," Adams said. "So when he did it, it's like it changed the whole mindset. They score and you are kind of down, and you're like, 'Man, I hope our offense can put a drive together and get us some points.' You hate to be down two scores. For LaRod to score the touchdown, it makes the defense go back out there and have a chip on your shoulder."
That's the energy a touchdown return can deliver, a momentum swing the Cards have had often this season.
In eight games, the Cardinals have an astounding eight return touchdowns. Two come from Stephens-Howling kickoff returns. One came from a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie interception. One came from a fumble recovery on offense by tackle Levi Brown (which in the NFL still counts as a return score).
The other four came after fumbles from the other team, three on defense (twice by safety Kerry Rhodes, once from linebacker Gerald Hayes) and one on special teams, when Adams picked up a fumbled Vikings kickoff return this past weekend.
The four fumbles returns have already tied an NFL record for a season, and there is still half a season to go.
"Those are hidden points," Rhodes said. "You don't expect them in a game but when they come, they provide a boost and it can be the turning point in the game."
That's what Adams thought when he scurried into the end zone. His score made it 21-10 Arizona to begin the second half.
"I thought we had them," Adams added. "I thought we broke their will."
It turned out the Vikings eventually rallied -- although if the Cards would have gotten what had looked like a ninth return touchdown early in the game when Rhodes fumbled at the Minnesota 1-yard line.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt smiled when talking about the returns and emphasized that returns scores "generally" mean a team has a better chance to win. "That's usually what it means," Whisenhunt added, knowing the double dip in Minnesota (in addition to a Rhodes return in San Diego and Hayes' return against Tampa Bay) didn't pay off.
But, "it shows we have some young playmakers that are getting their opportunities and that's a good sign," Whisenhunt said. "If we can continue to improve offensively and finish off a game defensively, if you add those kind of things, that's when you can get on a roll."
It's hard to determine how easily the Cards can keep making such plays happen, or if they have just benefitted from happenstance. "Those guys want the credit so we're not going to call it luck," Stephens-Howling said, and for kickoff returns, that's fair.
For the rest, it does take preparation but some good fortune to score after a turnover.
"We have had some fortunate bounces," Rhodes said. "We've made some good plays. But for the most part it is being in the right place at the right time. If you put the ball in some of our hands, we can make things happen."
Adams certainly is confident the Cards haven't seen the last of the surprising celebrations.
"Anytime you have something you do on a regular basis, it becomes like your identity of the team," Adams said. "We are getting to the point, we are scoring touchdowns on special teams and defense and that's just becoming our identity. We are to the point where even if the offense doesn't put up points every week, we have other ways of getting points, other ways of getting in position to win the game."
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