Defense keys end to Cardinals' victory drought
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
The Arizona Cardinals' 2 1/2-month victory drought is over, thanks to a little thievery by their defense.
The relief that the nine-game losing streak had ended was palpable at coach Ken Whisenhunt's day-after news conference. A week earlier, he was trying to explain the Cardinals' 58-0 loss at Seattle, the most one-sided defeat in franchise history.
''It's a lot better. No question about it,'' he said. ''I hate losing and it was a tough stretch. To get a win, it was something that makes it a lot better Monday.''
Whisenhunt, who gave the players Monday off, credited a strong performance by the defense for leading Sunday's 38-10 victory over the Detroit Lions, the team's first win since beating Miami on Sept. 30.
The Cardinals intercepted Matthew Stafford three times, returning two of them for touchdowns and setting up a TD with the other.
With the performance, Arizona leads the NFL in interceptions with 22. That's a dozen more than the team had all of last season. The Cardinals have one more interception than Chicago, and host the Bears next Sunday in Arizona's final home game of the season.
Patrick Peterson leads the way with seven interceptions, including one in each of the last four games. His was the first of the three picks on Sunday, and he returned it 29 yards to the Detroit 3 to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Rashad Johnson returned the next interception 53 yards for a score with 30 seconds left in the half to make it 21-7. The most spectacular pick came in the fourth quarter when, with the Lions at fourth-and-2 on the Arizona 4, Greg Toler intercepted in the end zone and, behind a wall of blockers, returned it 102 yards for the score that put the Cardinals up 31-10 with just over five minutes to play.
It was the longest interception return in Cardinals history, tied for fourth-longest ever in the NFL and the longest in the league in four seasons. Arizona's previous long was 99 yards by Adrian Wilson against Atlanta in 2006 and matched by Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie against St. Louis in 2008.
The pick came after a Detroit TD pass was called back by a delay-of-game penalty.
''I was kind of mad at the play before,'' Toler said. ''I know as a defensive player, you just need to move on to the next play because they could be coming at you at any point so you have to expect the ball coming your way. We were in a `cover three' and he (Stafford) just overthrew the ball to the out route, and I just jumped it.''
When he caught it, he saw nothing but Cardinals blockers.
''I saw the red in front of me,'' Toler said, ''so I was just hoping the guy behind me didn't come take me down.''
The difference between this year and last, Whisenhunt said, is that the defensive players are making the catch when they have the chance. Last year, there were a host of dropped would-be interceptions.
''Our guys believe in what they are doing and they're playing hard, and it's nice to see them making some plays,'' he said.
Whisenhunt credited the play up front of Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and David Carter, who was filling in for injured nose tackle Dan Williams. Campbell, in his second game back after missing two games with a calf injury, had a team-high eight tackles (seven solo), a sack, four tackles for loss and a pass deflection.
''Coach Horton (defensive coordinator Ray Horton) is a genius,'' Campbell said. ''We've got a lot of good athletes. We're smart.
Peterson, often matched against star receiver Calvin Johnson, had seven solo tackles to go with his interception. Peterson had proclaimed himself the best cornerback in the NFL earlier in the week.
''He backed it up,'' Whisenhunt said. ''He did a good job and it was going against a very good football player. I think you can see that in Patrick. We've talked about that at different times over the last two years, about his commitment to wanting to be great and how he works on the practice field, how he works in the classroom.''
While Campbell, Peterson and linebacker Daryl Washington are the young faces of the Arizona defense, the old-timer Wilson reached some rarified company when his late sack of Stafford made him only the sixth player in NFL history to have 25 career sacks and 25 interceptions.
After the game, Wilson's voice cracked as fought back tears while speaking of the achievement.
''Believe it or not, I'm a very emotional person and I put a lot of stock in what I do to play here and to give everything I have here,'' said the five-time Pro Bowl safety who took a pay cut to come back for his 12th season with Arizona. ''It feels good, and we won. A lot of the emotions that are coming out now are just thinking through the hard times and being where we're at now.''
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