GLENDALE, Ariz. — To preserve a nail-biting 20-16 win over Seattle on Sunday, the Cardinals defense had to complete what seemed like three or four red-zone stands in the final minute.
Two pass interference penalties. Six plays after what could have been a turnover on downs. And, remarkably, a phantom timeout.
The defense came through, though, forcing Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to throw five straight incomplete passes to end the game — and the insisting that the last stand was hardly noteworthy.
“Defensively, we just went out there and did our job,” Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson said. “The mindset was just go out there and play our defense, don’t give up any big plays.”
Echoed linebacker Paris Lenon: “It was just up to us to make a stop, and we did. You just play the hand that’s dealt. When that’s the situation, you either rise to the occasion, or you fold. We rose to the occasion.”
The Cardinals defense finally put an end to the Seahawks’ final drive with 18 seconds left, leaving the field after five minutes, 18 plays and 76 yards.
Quarterback Kevin Kolb, in for injured starter John Skelton, came in to take a knee and the Cardinals walked off winners.
The defense had been sound most of the day, allowing only 178 total yards before the final Seattle drive. Wilson slowly moved the Seahawks down the field, gaining more than 10 yards just twice and benefiting from 21 penalty yards.
Seattle’s do-over chances came one after the other. On a fourth-and-6 from the Cardinals 27-yard line, Wilson couldn’t connect with receiver Sidney Rice. The chains moved anyway, though, when Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson was called for pass interference, pushing the Seahawks into the red zone.
After three more incomplete passes, it was Cardinals cornerback William Gay who was called for pass interference, though that penalty was a questionable one. And with that, the Seahawks were inside the 10-yard line.
Then came the most troubling development of the drive.
After Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch ran two yards to the 4-yard line, Seattle coach Pete Carroll called a timeout. The problem, or so the scoreboard said, was that he didn’t have any left. The officials — replacements with the NFL Referees Association locked out — huddled for several minutes before ruling that Seattle actually did have a timeout left. They shouldn’t have.
Three plays earlier, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was hurt while Wilson threw an incomplete pass.
“I went out there when the player was down in the end zone and said (to the officials), ‘That is their last timeout,'” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Because a player injured in the last two minutes of the half, whether he is on the field, if they have to stop play they have to take their timeout.”
Whisenhunt is right. League rules stipulate that the Seahawks should have been charged with their third and final timeout when Baldwin was hurt. The referees failed to do so.
“I will ask for clarification of the league about that rule,” Whisenhunt said. Referee Bruce Hermansen admitted the mistake in a statement after the game.
“It was my error,” Hermansen said. “We gave (the Seahawks) the additional timeout because of the incomplete pass stopping the clock before the injury occurred. When in effect, the clock has no bearing on the play at all, whether it’s stopped or running, we should not have given them the additional timeout.”
The Cardinals defense overcame the potentially disastrous flub, forcing three more incompletions from Wilson to finish off the win.
The series of events had Cardinals defenders worrying but never doubting.
“I was thinking, ‘Here we go again,'” Lenon said. “It was the same situation in our first game last season. It was our home opener, came down to the last play in our own red zone. It was déjà vu, but you have to step up and make a play, and we did.
“If you have any doubt, you’ve already lost.”
Lenon was among the defense’s standout players, finishing with nine tackles and two sacks for his first career multi-sack game. Adrian Wilson intercepted a Russell Wilson heave at the end of the first half, and defensive lineman Calais Campbell notched his sixth career blocked field goal.
All of it could have been wasted, though, if not for a marathon of a defensive stand.
“I will just say that if it came down to your team having to win a game, obviously you would want to have the ball in your hands,” Whisenhunt said. “But if our defense is going to be out there, you have confidence that they were going to get the job done. They got the job done.”