Cornerback Patrick Peterson leaps into the end zone to complete his 89-yard game-winning punt return Sunday against Carolina.
Patrick Peterson was able to laugh about it.
It was all good after the game – even after the play – once he scored on his 89-yard punt return Sunday that gave the Cardinals their game-winning points in a 28-21 win over the Panthers. But during the spectacular return, he slowed up and began to high-step around the 20-yard line – nearly costing himself a chance to score.
"I took a quick little peek," Peterson said of noticing Carolina's Mike Goodson chasing him so closely. "I was going to give (everyone) a taste of my dancing skills. I saw him behind me and was like, 'Oh, I gotta get there now.' That's when I dove in for the touchdown."
Winning washes away a lot of worries. That's why coach Ken Whisenhunt, asked about Peterson's near faux pas, admitted, "at that point, I was so happy with what we'd done I didn't really think about it, it be honest with you."
Peterson's NFL baptism was interesting, to say the least. He was on the back end of many of the Panthers' catches Sunday, trying to keep up not only with veteran Steve Smith (eight catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns) but also tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen.
One thing Peterson has never lacked, however, is confidence. That's why he was considering the high-step at the end of his return and why he said, despite everything, he thought he "played pretty well" Sunday.
"I gave up some plays I knew I should have made but that comes with the game of football," Peterson said, adding later, "Hopefully next week I will learn from some of the mistakes I made today and come out and play even better."
That's Whisenhunt's expectation.
"There is a reason why you want to make rookies earn their way into playing," Whisenhunt said. "When you go against guys like Steve Smith and those really good players, there is a learning curve.
"I would have been very easy to get down on yourself with the way some of the plays went in that game, but he had tremendous confidence he was going to make a play."
If anyone thought Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton was going to struggle in his first NFL start, he certainly showed otherwise. Newton tied Matthew Stafford's NFL record for passing yards by a rookie with 422, and nearly led Carolina to the upset while looking much more poised than someone of his pro experience.
"Everything we saw on film, they pretty much did," Newton said of the Cards' defense. "Those guys were playing their behinds off."
The Cardinals managed to sack Newton four times. But it was one they missed that resonated – linebacker Joey Porter did a great job getting in and grabbing Newton for what should have been a sure sack. Instead, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Newton managed to stay upright with Porter doing as much as he could to bring him down, long enough to throw an incompletion instead of taking a sack.
The Cards also were trying to stay in Newton's running lanes, slowing up the rush just enough so he couldn't break off long gains with his feet.
"He put the ball right on the money," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "He escaped pressure even though we tried to keep him from using his legs to beat us. He showed us he could win with his arm too.
"All that matters is the 'W,' and I'm glad we pulled it out. But yes, he had a good day."
For a while, it looked like running back Beanie Wells would get his second 20-carry game ever, with the way he helped muscle the ball down the field on the Cards' first possession. The game played out a little differently, but Wells still had 18 carries for 90 yards and a score in his first game as the main back.
It was Wells' second-most carries ever, after his 20-carry game (for just 35 yards) against Tampa Bay last year. The Cards are now 13-3 – postseason included – when Wells has at least 10 carries in a game.
The one negative was a botched pitch play from quarterback Kevin Kolb to Wells at the Carolina 6-yard line in the first half, and the Cards lost the fumble.
"We got in a hurry down there and (I) left it on his back hip," Kolb said. "You can't do that. I won't do it again, but we will play fearless."
Safety Adrian Wilson played without restrictions Sunday, coming in to belt running back DeAngelo Williams for a loss on his first tackle of the season early on. Wilson also took the blame for Steve Smith's 77-yard touchdown catch when the Panthers caught the Cards on a blitz.
"The first one was my fault," Wilson said. "I got nosy."
Linebacker Daryl Washington, who had an interception (and had a second called back on a questionable unnecessary roughness call on cornerback Richard Marshall's hit on Newton), left the game with a calf strain. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling also took a shot to his hand and biceps. Both came out of the game and will be reevaluated Monday.