GLENDALE, Ariz. — There were no champagne corks popping in the Cardinals’ locker room Sunday evening.
It was important to get a win to avoid an 0-2 hole with two road games on deck. It was nice to get coach Bruce Arians his first victory in Arizona, too. But there are 14 games left in this season, and there is clearly plenty of work still to be done.
“We’re not always going to be perfect,” Arians said following the Cardinals’ come-from-behind 25-21 win over the Lions in their home opener at University of Phoenix Stadium. “You’ve got to learn how to ride the emotions of the game and stay with it.”
Against the Lions, that meant blocking out a dreadful offensive performance that saw the Cardinals go 1 for 11 on third downs and 1 for 4 in the red zone.
“Mentally, there are so many things going through your head,” said quarterback Carson Palmer, who created one when he threw an awful pick-six to Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy midway through the third quarter to give Detroit a 21-13 lead.
It didn’t help matters that the Cardinals played the game without tight end Rob Housler (ankle) and eventually lost receiver Larry Fitzgerald to a nagging hamstring injury that had limited his role anyway.
But the offense got a second straight solid effort from running back Rashard Mendenhall (94 combined yards rushing and receiving), youngsters Andre Ellington (36-yard TD catch) and Kerry Taylor (three catches, 40 yards) provided a spark, the defense held the Lions offense and receiver Calvin Johnson off the scoreboard in the second half, and Patrick Peterson got to show off his wares on every unit.
Peterson had a 17-yard catch, his first reception of the season. He also threw a 17-yard pass to Taylor on which he scrambled away from pressure by looping back on his own path before throwing on the run, and he was a major reason why Johnson had just six catches (two in the second half). The two plays made him the first defender to catch and complete a pass in the same game since at least the 1970 merger, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Even the special teams came up with huge plays. Punter Dave Zastudil consistently pinned the Lions deep in their territory, forcing them to drive long fields. Kicker Jay Feely made all four of his field-goals attempts and put all seven of his kickoffs into the end zone (six touchbacks), and special-teams ace Justin Bethel came around the left edge to block David Akers’ 47-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter.
“Can’t say enough about special teams,” Arians said. “Huge performance.”
For a time, it looked like it all might go for naught because the offense couldn’t convert its first eight third-down attempts and couldn’t cash in on its red-zone opportunities with TDs.
“When it gets tight like that, you have to be very precise; you can’t have any mental errors,” Mendenhall said. “When you have guys out like we did, it definitely changes the complexion of the game and the offense, but you can’t use that as an excuse. You have to find a way to overcome.”
The Cardinals finally did on their final drive. On third down from Lions 32-yard line, receiver Andre Roberts drew a pass interference call in the end zone, setting up Mendenhall’s short touchdown run on which he broke the plane before the ball was knocked away.
That left the game in the hands of the defense, which couldn’t hold an 11-point fourth-quarter lead the week before in St. Louis. This time, the unit came through, as Tyrann Mathieu tackled Lions receiver Nate Burleson just short of the first-down marker on fourth-and-4 from the Detroit 43-yard line.
“Weight off my shoulders,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “Something we didn’t get accomplished last week, we found a way to win this week.
“We got two road games coming. A win at home was what we needed.”