Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling breaks off a run Sunday during his career-best 104-yard rushing day.
MINNEAPOLIS – It was one highlight reel after another.
There was the initial burst of speed that left the first defender slipping off him, a cut inside that froze a second one in his tracks and he simply outmuscled a third. There was the spin move right out of an XBox commercial, followed by a stretch over the goal line for a touchdown. And there was the midstride hurdle over a Vikings' defender on a 27-yard run that was longer than all of LaRod Stephens-Howling's runs this season – combined.
The Cardinals have seen the fourth-year running back do all of this before, however. In practice.
"He kind of looks like a video game," left guard Daryn Colledge said.
Stephens-Howling is better known around NFL circles for being a kick returner, but in Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings he announced his presence as a starting running back with a career-high 104 yards on 20 carries.
That's how Stephens-Howling would prefer it. He doesn't want his words to speak for him.
He lets his play do all the talking.
"He's one of the most humble guys I've ever met," said William Powell, Stephens-Howling's backup. "No matter how good he does, he always stays humble and I really admire that."
As most running backs often do, Stephens-Howling kept deflecting credit for his 100-yard day to the offensive line. But he was incessant about it.
The Cardinals' front five opened the holes for him, but it was Stephens-Howling who made the Vikings miss tackles and went move-for-move with another starting running back Sunday.
"He deserves more credit than he's going to take," Colledge said. "We've known LaRod for a while. We've always known he's a special back.
"He's always been an elusive back. I don't think he'd necessarily be what anybody would quantify as a large power back but he makes great cuts and he gets hard yards. Sometimes he can make people miss and that's exactly what you need."
His progress Sunday was gradual. Stephens-Howling had 42 yards at halftime and added another 62 in the final two quarters.
Until Sunday, his career high was 93 yards in last season's finale against Seattle when Stephens-Howling replaced the injured Beanie Wells. The Hyphen, as Stephens-Howling is often referred to, is in the same position this season. Wells is out until late November with turf toe and Ryan Williams is out for the season with a shoulder injury.
Next up is Stephens-Howling and Powell.
The Hyphen missed the Miami and St. Louis games with a hip injury, and his return last weekend against Buffalo yielded just 22 yards.
Healthy and fresh, Stephens-Howling put himself on display Sunday.
"Just because I'm in the game doesn't mean there's a let off," he said. "So we're just going to keep working hard and trying to improve."
Even though his 104 yards Sunday would rank as his third-best season, he wouldn't allow himself to bask in the enjoyment of his first-career 100-yard game because of the loss.
With his starting job secure until at least Wells returns, the public will get to see what the Cardinals have been witness to behind the locked doors of practice for the last four years.
"When has he not been good?" coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He hasn't had a lot of opportunity. He had opportunities today, and he did well. We had a good run plan."
Soon, Stephens-Howling will need to make room for another hyphen: The one in between 100-yard rusher.