Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart looks to complete a pass during the Cardinals' 21-14 win over Pittsburgh Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
A lone game – and one four weeks into the season – cannot define an NFL season.
But the Cardinals may have had a watershed moment Sunday in beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-14, in fromt of 68,844 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"The thing I am the proudest about is that our football team beat a good football team that no one gave us a chance to do," said Card head coach Ken Whisenhunt. "I was most proud of our fans and the way they energized the team and were there for us, especially in the fourth quarter."
Whisenhunt, coaching against his former club for whom he was an assistant under Bill Cowher from 2001-06, received impressive performances from all three phases of the game—offense, defense and special teams.
Offensively, quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Kurt Warner combined to complete 21 of 35 attempts for 225 yards and a touchdown, running back Edgerrin James added 77 yards and a score on 21 carries, and receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 123 yards.
On defense, the Cards allowed just 77 yards rushing and sacked Steeler passer Ben Roethlisberger four times and had two interceptions.
Special teams produced the big play in the fourth quarter with a 73-yard punt return by rookie Steve Breaston.
In addition, the noisy home crowd was instrumental in several false starts by the Steelers, who committed 11 penalties for 72 yards overall.
From the outset, the Cardinals faced an uphill battle against the Steelers. Leading receiver Anquan Boldin was out with a hip injury, as was right tackle Levi Brown (ankle). And the undefeated Steelers came to Arizona with the NFL's leading rusher in Willie Parker and a defense ranked second in the league.
"I think we definitely have a team now," safety Adrian Wilson said. "Everyone believes in what we are doing."
Pittsburgh got on the scoreboard first in the opening period with an eight-play, 69-yard drive as Roethlisberger twice converted third downs into big gains. The first was a 28-yard completion to tight end Heath Miller on a third-and-seven from his own 34-yard line. Then on third-and-26 from the Cardinal 43, Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes for a 43-yard scoring play to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead with 31 seconds left in the period.
After an exchange of punts, Warner relieved Leinart at quarterback and found Fitzgerald over the middle for 20 yards, but Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu stripped him of the ball and the Steelers took over near midfield. The Cardinal defense, however, forced a punt and Arizona took over at its own 20 with just under two minutes left in the second quarter. The Cards drove to the Steeler 41-yard line with 11 seconds left in the half, but an eventual Neil Rackers field goal from 52 yards was wide left and Pittsburgh held took the 7-0 lead at halftime.
With Warner at quarterback, the Cards drove 70 yards in nine plays with their first possession of the second half, capped by a six-yard scoring pass from Warner to reserve wide receiver Jerheme Urban to tie the game at 7-7.
Later in the third quarter, center Al Johnson, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since the season opener after a knee injury, sailed a shotgun snap over Warner's head at the Pittsburgh 24-yard line. The Steelers recovered at the four, and regained not only possession but seemingly a measure of momentum as well and near-certain score.
But on a third-and-goal at the two yard line, Card safety Adrian Wilson stepped in front of Miller in the end zone for an interception to preserve the 7-7 tie.
Early in the final period, the Cards forced a Steeler punt from their own 14, and Dan Sepulveda's 59-yard kick was fielded by Breaston at the 27-yard line. The rookie from Michigan evaded the first wall of pursuit, broke toward the right sideline, and galloped 73 yards to the end zone to give the Cards a 14-7 lead with 14:10 left in the game.
Arizona's defense, which held the Steelers to just 282 yards and limited Parker to only 37 yards on 19 attempts, stepped up again and forced Pittsburgh to punt with 11:33 remaining. Arizona then sealed the game with a textbook drive.
Leinart, back in at quarterback, lofted a perfect first-down pass to Fitzgerald deep down the left side for 38 yards and into Steeler territory. James later converted one third down with a two-yard run, Leinart himself added a fourth-and-one conversion with a keeper, and James finished off the drive with a two-yard plunge as he stretched the ball over the plane of the goal line to give Arizona a 21-7 lead with 4:14 to play.
Roethlisberger made it close with a 92-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to seven. But the Steelers didn't get the ball back until 46 seconds were left and they were 91 yards from the goal line. Eventually, Cardinals cornerback Ralph Brown picked off a pass to end the threat. * * * Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 9/30/07