Defense keys end to Cardinals’ victory drought

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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