Running backs Stepfan Taylor (left) and Andre Ellington first met at the Senior Bowl before the Cardinals drafted them.
Andre Ellington not only was on the field for eight straight plays but touched the ball on all eight (if you include the defensive pass interference he drew), so after his six-yard run got the Cardinals a first down at the Oakland 4-yard line, he jogged off the field.
Stepfan Taylor, Ellington's backup, practice stand-in and friend, jogged in.
"I could tell he wanted it," Ellington said of the touchdown Taylor scored on the very next play. "I was being a team player at the time. He was fresh,
he was playing well. He was hungry. I was winded, banged up a little bit. We got the fresh legs out there."
"If that was me, I would've stayed in," Taylor said, laughing. "I'm not coming out at the goal line."
The touchdown heard throughout the fantasy football world came about in part because Ellington wanted to reward Taylor after watching Taylor do most of the heavy lifting at practice every week while Ellington nurses a partially torn tendon in his left foot.
But it also speaks to the friendship between the two, born before the running backs were even drafted by the Cardinals and strengthened long before Ellington gave up his scoring opportunity.
The two met at the 2013 Senior Bowl, playing for the same team. Ellington only lasted a few practices before having to withdraw with a hamstring injury, but by then he and Taylor had already become friendly, exchanging numbers.
They hung out again a few weeks later when attending the NFL Scouting combine. When Ellington became a surprise sixth-round pick of the Cardinals – a round after Taylor was taken by the team – they were together again.
"It was exciting, to be able to come in with a guy I already knew, I already had that friendship with, we could push each other," Ellington said.
Even then, Ellington was looking out for Taylor. Because Taylor attended Stanford – on the quarters system – he couldn't attend the first part of the Cardinals' offseason program. Ellington's number was one of the few he had, so until Taylor could get to Tempe full time, he constantly texted Ellington
to stay in the loop.
"Some players might have tried to sabotage, but no, he was always helpful and I told him I respected that," Taylor said. "He did more than he had to do to help me out."
To this, Ellington shrugs. He said he never once thought about doing anything different for Taylor, since he was already a friend by that point. That's why Sunday's gesture made sense.
(Although Bruce Arians said Ellington was "beat" when he came out of the game and Taylor scored, and the coach noted that Ellington probably wouldn't have gotten in the end zone like Taylor did given fatigue.)
As far as Ellington is concerned, Taylor is doing more than just taking the reps in Ellington's place during practice. He's providing a window to the play for Ellington while Ellington takes mental reps.
The Cardinals are going to keep leaning on Ellington, even while he deals with the foot issue. Quarterback Carson Palmer praised Ellington's toughness for being so effective through the injury, and reiterated how he sees Ellington as a Jamal Charles-type who has the same explosive versatility as the Chiefs' star back.
Arians said the 30 touches Ellington had – 24 rushes for 88 yards, six receptions for another 72 – wasn't too much, although bringing the actual rushing attempts down to 20 would be a better ratio.
Taylor too had a big game, with 12 rushing attempts (for 40 yards) and another two catches (for 19 yards, and a second touchdown.) Usually, Taylor doesn't get nearly that amount of work, and he acknowledged that isn't always easy.
More carries would allow him to get a better sense of his game, Taylor said, and he felt like he lost his balance a couple of times because he just hasn't been used to taking hits in a game. Taylor only had six rushing attempts all season before the game in Oakland.
"But I mean, when you don't have those reps, you have to watch from the sideline and get a feel, talk to whoever is in the game and go out there," Taylor said.
Usually that's Ellington, and that works for both of them, regardless of the way the workload is distributed.
"They aren't saying Andre Ellington is 5-1. They are saying the Arizona Cardinals are 5-1," Ellington said. "Team is important to me. I understand team is what it takes to win games. I am a believer in that."
Passing up a chance to score a touchdown is only natural. Especially for a friend.
"He's laid back and funny at the same time," Taylor said, "just like me."
"Stepfan is cool," Ellington said. "We don't let the football thing get between our friendship. We keep it simple, keep it homeboys."