Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski (left) and Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett each feel the emotion of Janikowski's missed field goal to end the Cards' 24-23 win Sunday.
About 15 minutes had passed since the 32-yard field goal attempt of Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski had sailed left, delivering an improbable 24-23 win to the Cardinals Sunday, when coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked if such a crazy finish was going to be routine for his team.
"What are you trying to do – torture me?" Whisenhunt asked.
The game could have been painful for the Cards, but it wasn't. It was a victory, and as Whisenhunt added, "If we come out with a win, I'll take it every time."
The game started with a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by LaRod Stephens-Howling – winning a new home in the process, via a promotion, for Dave Johnson of Surprise – and nearly ended on a controversial 39-yard pass interference penalty on Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
But after a couple of running plays, Janikowski – who also missed from 58 and 41 yards, but made field goals from 22, 54 and 23 – came on to seal the Cards' fate.
Then he missed.
"I don't think this (win) was unexpected," linebacker Joey Porter said. "I think we outplayed them. He missed the kick, and that's part of the game. It's not guaranteed he's going to make the kick just because it's close like that."
That's an optimism the Cards need these days.
There were positives, like running back Beanie Wells returning to gain 75 yards on 14 carries. Porter notched his first sack as a Cardinal, safety Kerry Rhodes had his best game since arriving with 10 tackles and linebacker Paris Lenon had a sack and an interception in the same game for the first time in his career.
Defensively, the Cards gave up just one touchdown in the red zone among five trips for the Raiders (1-2), including an impressive stone job in the fourth quarter when the Raiders began with first-and-goal at the Arizona 1-yard line.
The work in progress element isn't gone, nor will it be soon, however. Stephens-Howling's big play on special teams was counter-balanced when the Cards not once but twice – amazingly – allowed Oakland punts to hit the ground, bounce up and hit an Arizona player, creating turnovers for the Raiders. And with a chance to ice the game late, a Derek Anderson-to-Steve Breaston pass on third-and-5 was tipped and then dropped by Breaston, giving the ball back to Oakland for its final drive.
"We're a better team than that," Breaston said. "We have to find an identity and we have to find it fast."
On the final drive, the Raiders converted a third-and-9 and then, with the crowd screaming on fourth-and-10 and Oakland on its own 36, the Cards couldn't pressure quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and he found Darrius Heyward-Bey for a 12-yard gain.
Because Janikowski had already made a 54-yarder earlier in the game, the Raiders didn't have to go far for a legitimate attempt. They got much closer, however, when on the next play Gradkowski threw deep to Heyward-Bey and Rodgers-Cromartie was flagged at the Arizona 13.
"We were running down the field and sometimes it's gonna be like that," an obviously frustrated DRC said, waving off the idea that it turned out OK because of the win. "It's still a P.I. call. Stuff like that can't happen."
Two runs set up the last attempt, but Janikowski couldn't finish.
Janikowski hadn't missed from 32 yards or closer since missing a 29-yard attempt Dec. 3, 2006 against Houston, and had made 19 straight attempts from between 30 and 39 yards.
"It looked like the operation was good all day in terms of the snap and hold," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "He felt good before the game, felt like he had a lot of leg today. He just missed three times."
The Cards are OK with that.
"We escaped and we got lucky," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, "but a win is a win."
Fitzgerald only had two catches (for 26 yards) but caught what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown. The passing game remained inconsistent – Anderson was 12-for-26 for 122 yards, two touchdowns and an interception – but it also generated three pass interference calls against the Raiders.
The Raiders ended up with 11 penalties for 123 yards, the Cards seven for 104.
Oakland running back Darren McFadden had 105 yards rushing on 25 carries. Gradkowski was 17-of-34 for 255 yards, a touchdown and an interception – with the Cards failing to hang on to a few other potential picks.
"We haven't been together in all phases yet," Porter said. "I'm anxious to see what that team looks like."
Right now, there are unquestionably things to improve. But the Cards still look like a team in first place in the division, and they'll take it, especially after the roller coaster ride of Sunday.
"I didn't know if my heart was going to make it," Whisenhunt said.
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