Cardinals safety Justin Bethel (28) rips the ball away from Ravens punt returner Jeremy Ross for a key turnover during Arizona's 26-18 win Monday night.
Special teams gave a jolt to a lifeless Cardinals team in the second quarter on Monday night. It also brought the Ravens back from the dead down the stretch.
It was a mixed bag for the unit in the 26-18 win, as Justin Bethel's forced fumble kick-started a dominant stretch, but a late blocked punt by Baltimore put the outcome in doubt until the waning seconds.
The Cardinals seemed to be cruising to the win when Drew Butler set up to boot the ball away with under five minutes to go,
but Ravens cornerback Asa Jackson twisted up the middle and ran nearly untouched to block the ball.
"They ran a double twist in the A-gap, and I had two guys," safety Rashad Johnson said. "So it was just, 'Pick one.' I just got caught in a bad situation. Normally, you try and grab the guys, hold them and take the penalty, but I wasn't able to get my hands on both of them."
The ball squirted down to the 1, where the Ravens took over and scored one play later. If kicker Chandler Catanzaro had made an extra point on the Cardinals' previous touchdown the Ravens score couldn't have made it a one-possession game, but the two-point conversion helped this one come down to the final seconds.
The ending helped mask how important the play by Bethel was late in the first half. The Cardinals trailed 10-7 and had just gone three-and-out. The Ravens waited to take over following their most successful drive of the night, an eight-play, 84-yard march that was punctuated by a 14-yard touchdown run by Justin Forsett.
They never gained possession, as Bethel brought down returner Jeremy Ross and ripped the ball loose from him before his knee hit the ground. The ball never hit the grass, as Bethel kept it in his arms as he went down.
The Cardinals took over at the 12 and scored a touchdown on the drive to go ahead 14-10.
"I dove for the tackle, and when I landed on him, I felt it," Bethel said. "I rolled this way and I felt the ball coming out. So I just finished rolling and it came straight into my hands. I think it was definitely a big play for us. It was something we needed."
FREENEY GETS HIS FIRST SACK
After a quiet debut in Pittsburgh, linebacker Dwight Freeney played much more prominently in this week's outcome, finishing with two tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits.
He not only played in obvious pass-rushing situations, but also saw the field on second and first down.
"That was great," Freeney said. "It felt like I was back in 2008, 2005 when I used to do that stuff. I just love doing that. I'm a football player, not just a pass-rush guy, and they realize that here. They've done a great job of keeping everybody fresh, kind of like a hockey team."
Freeney registered his sack by using a spin move on Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe, who he said was overplaying him to the outside. Freeney said there was no concern as to whether his spin move would still be effective at age 35.
"I know I still got it, but it's about how sharp it is," Freeney said. "Sometimes it's slow, like a tropical storm. This one was like a tornado. I've got to get that thing humming. It was pretty good today. A category 2 -- 75-to-80 miles per hour."
JERRAUD POWERS MISSES SECOND HALF WITH INJURY
Cornerback Jerraud Powers didn't play in the second half due to a hamstring injury. Coach Bruce Arians said he's unsure of its severity.
Powers' absence pressed Bethel into action as the outside cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. Not surprisingly, the Ravens targeted him often in the final two quarters. Bethel gave himself a 'B' for his performance on defense because he mixed up a coverage which allowed for a 31-yard completion to Chris Givens on Baltimore's final drive.
"There was one play I wish I could take back, but other than that I was prepared for it," Bethel said.
If Powers is out for a significant stretch, it will leave the Cardinals thin at cornerback. Bethel was the only backup for much of the year until undrafted rookie free agent Cariel Brooks was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster two weeks ago after safety Chris Clemons was placed on injured reserve.
GRESHAM STEPS IN AND STEPS UP
Tight end Jermaine Gresham had his best game of the season, catching four passes for 62 yards in place of injured starter Darren Fells.
"I'm just trying to find my niche in this offense, being in the right place at the right time," Gresham said. "Carson (Palmer) is going to go through his progressions and make his reads, so just be there."
Guard A.Q. Shipley also played some tight end – as well as fullback – during the game, acting as another blocker.