Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling (36) makes it into the end zone on his 19-yard touchdown reception Thursday night during a 26-7 win over Denver.
There was no serious extra work Thursday night for the starters, like coach Ken Whisenhunt hinted there might. Quarterback Kevin Kolb was in for all of four plays, and the starting defense – which included rookie Patrick Peterson for the first time – had just a three-and-out before calling it an evening.
The best part of the preseason finale against Denver at University of Phoenix Stadium – aside from the 26-7 score, because Whisenhunt always would like to win – was that the Cards (2-2) escaped without a serious injury for the first time in three games.
It was a simple game, built around some players trying to make the team and most trying to stay smart.
"We've made up a lot of ground in a short time," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There will be a lot of tough decisions to make (on the roster) and that's a good thing."
Quarterback Rich Bartel, with John Skelton still nursing his ankle sprain, continued his push to be Kevin Kolb's backup. He completed 12-of-16 passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His passing rating was 130.2 and he finished the preseason with five TD passes.
Whisenhunt said it was "fair" to say Bartel is in the mix with Skelton as the backup. For Bartel, who had been cut by four other teams before coming to Arizona, he wasn't about to talk about his chances of being No. 2. Instead, he acknowledged "I'll sleep great tonight" for the first time in his NFL career, despite cuts looming.
"This is the best opportunity I have had in my life," Bartel said.
Whisenhunt said he liked how Bartel stood in the pocket to make the throws, most evident on a 48-yard touchdown pass to veteran wide receiver Chansi Stuckey in the first half. Whisenhunt said Skelton too has had a good preseason, despite last getting on the field Aug. 19 against Green Bay. Either way, Bartel and Skelton will be on the roster.
There will be choices to be made elsewhere. Others flashed against Denver's backups, with Broncos coach John Fox sitting his starters. Stuckey had four catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, although Whisenhunt said Stuckey needed to improve his duties when the Cards run the ball. LaRod Stephens-Howling made a nifty move on a 19-yard catch-and-run for a score, and linebacker Stewart Bradley had his first interception as a Cardinal, leading to a field goal.
Kicker Jay Feely was 4-for-4 on field goals, including a 52-yarder as the Cards outgained the Broncos (2-2), 398 yards to 293, and Denver got 196 of those yards in the fourth quarter.
"We've got guys showing up all over the place making plays, and that's something that was missing from the team last year," Whisenhunt said.
It also was something the Cardinals were hoping for when they added some key players in the abbreviated time before training camp – and counted on even though the prep time was significantly less than a normal season.
"The preseason was important, especially without an offseason," Bradley said. "It was less redundant than usual. This year it was important to get out there, me in particular with a new team, a new defense to get reps. I was happy to have it, but I am definitely ready for the regular season to start."
Here's the stat of the night when it comes to preseason football in the fourth week: Cards running back William Powell, who was cut early in camp and only brought back when Ryan Williams suffered his season-ending injury, had 29 carries for 60 yards.
Powell had all of 23 carries his entire college stint at Kansas State.
Those are the kind of things you see in the final preseason game. Soon, Powell will just be a footnote. The regular season has arrived.
"Would we like more time to prepare the guys? If you are asking me as a coach, absolutely," Whisenhunt said. "But am I ready for the season? Based on what I have seen the last couple of weeks, I am excited for the season. I think to prepare for a team, game-planning, that gets me excited for being sharp on both sides of the ball.
"Yeah, I am ready for the season."
Whisenhunt said running back Alfonso Smith (hamstring) could have played if Powell had gotten hurt, because they wouldn't have wanted Beanie Wells or Stephens-Howling to return. But with Powell able, the Cards didn't want to risk Smith playing.