Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) celebrates with teammates after his interception in overtime Sunday to spark a 16-13 win over the Colts.
INDIANAPOLIS – There were a lot of times when the game could've slipped away from the Cardinals Sunday.
Maybe it would've been because of a sluggish start, or the bad offensive play, or the dire third-and-20 situation, or the missed field goal on the last play of regulation.
Instead, it's a 16-13 overtime win that goes down in the books, a victory over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium that felt improbable so much of the afternoon. Safety Tyrann Mathieu created the chance with an interception on the first play of overtime, and kicker Phil Dawson was able to atone for his miss with a follow-up kick just a couple of minutes later.
And the Cardinals get to have a 1-1 record heading into their home opener next week, with no apologies given.
"May not have been the prettiest win," Dawson said, "but it's kind of like your high school prom
date: Doesn't matter if she's pretty, as long as you've got one."
For so long, it didn't look like the Cardinals would even think about asking a victory out. Coach Bruce Arians said he couldn't explain the poor start, although it was difficult not to see the injury-ravaged offense showing signs of weakness.
There were some yards but no points – save for an early field goal, a second scoring chance wasted when the Cards couldn't convert on fourth down from the Indianapolis 1-yard line – until the fourth quarter.
Facing a third-and-20 at their own 18, quarterback Carson Palmer found wide receiver Jaron Brown just beyond the first down line for a gain of 22 yards, and the Cardinals got an extra 15 yards tacked on because of a roughing-the-passer call.
Suddenly, the Cards had a first down at the Colts 45, still trailing, 13-3. On the next play, Palmer threw his best ball of the game, perfectly hitting J.J. Nelson in stride for a touchdown and giving the Cardinals life.
"It felt like I was able to uplift the team," said Nelson, who had five receptions for 120 yards.
Playing without offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Mike Iupati, running back David Johnson, tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver John Brown, the Cardinals ended up with 389 total yards. Veteran Chris Johnson ended up becoming the main running back in place of David Johnson, rushing for 44 yards on 11 carries.
Palmer overcame a bad start, including a poor decision on an interception to thwart a potential field goal try, to pass for 332 yards on 19-for-36 passing.
The offense "is really not a concern," Palmer said. "We just are going to get back to work. Obviously we'd like more
production, more touchdowns. But I'm not down or concerned."
After the first quarter, the Colts held a 10-0 lead. After that, Indianapolis (0-2) managed just one more sustained drive – which got them a field goal – and had only 96 yards on nine other possessions.
"Our attitude (changed)," defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. "We were searching plays to come to us instead of taking them. The majority of the second half we did that. We took them."
That's what happened at the end of regulation. Dawson booted a 40-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 with 3:28. The defense managed to hold the Colts twice, the second time leading to a big 20-yard catch-and-run by Brown to set up Dawson for a winner.
He kicked one through from 42 yards, but the Colts had called time out right before the kick. On the second, Dawson pushed it right. He thought he was roughed on the play, but no flag was thrown.
Mathieu rescued him. On the first play of overtime, the safety got his first interception of the season – and the Cardinals' first turnover since Justin Bethel's first-quarter pick-6 in Detroit last week – and ran it back to the Indianapolis 21.
"I guess I got a lot of inside routes all day," Mathieu said. "I just felt like I got a great break on the ball. It's a critical play in a critical moment."
And this time, Dawson didn't miss, from 30 yards.
"We went out and redeemed ourselves," Dawson said.
It's a performance that won't work as well against a better team like Dallas, who visits University of Phoenix Stadium next Monday. But the Cardinals are not winless, and style points are not important when the standings are tallied up.
"We'll never say we're sorry for winning," Arians said.
Images from the Week 2 game in Indianapolis