GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Cardinals’ losing streak was like a 12-month pregnancy. It lingered far too long, and once it crossed a certain threshold, nobody cared about beauty any more. All that mattered was deliverance from the pain.
Maybe that’s why safety Adrian Wilson was so emotional when he reached the podium at the postgame press conference Sunday following the Cardinals’ 38-10 win over the Lions.
So much had transpired over the past two and a half months. There was talk that this might be Wilson’s last season in Arizona. There was talk that this might be the last season for a lot of Cardinals, including the coaches. And there was the losing, the habitual losing that has marked most of Wilson’s 12-year career, punctuated by last week’s franchise record 58-0 loss in Seattle.
“I’m a very emotional person, and I put a lot of stock into what I do,” Wilson said as his composure slowly deteriorated. “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.”
It took four turnovers, two offensive drives that started at or inside the Lions’ 5-yard line, two pick-sixes and an even more inept opponent, but the Cardinals snapped their nine-game skid at sparsely populated University of Phoenix Stadium. That was sufficient cause for a roar inside the Arizona locker room while the media waited outside.
“We wanted to get that funk off our back,” said cornerback Greg Toler, whose 102-yard interception return in the fourth quarter set a franchise record while icing the game. “There’s nothing like getting a win, and it was well overdue.”
We can talk about Ryan Lindley’s 104 passing yards and the quarterback issues later. We can talk about the botched draft position some other day. We can talk about the fate of the coaching staff after the season. The feel of a win — not tasted here since Sept. 30 — was far more important on this day. And you could see it on the face of every Cardinal in the festive locker room.
“I just think we got back to basics,” said Wilson, who became just the sixth NFL player ever to post 25 sacks and 25 interceptions in a career when he notched a fourth-quarter sack. “The game we played last week was obviously a mess. We just wanted to get back to being on the same page.”
You can put to bed the notion that the Cardinals defense has given up on its coach and staff. Coordinator Ray Horton devised a wonderful scheme Sunday. Granted, receiver Calvin Johnson still had 10 catches for 121 yards, but nobody has been able to corral him this season.
Horton’s crew did something far more important. It forced crucial turnovers, and unlike past games, it turned them into points. Patrick Peterson’s interception while defending Johnson set the offense up at the Lions’ 3-yard line. Not even the Cardinals offense could blow that opportunity.
In the process, Peterson became the first Cardinal to post an interception in four straight games since Aeneas Williams in 1994 and the first Cardinal to post at least seven picks in a season since Kwamie Lassiter had nine in 2001.
But the defense wasn’t done. Toler and Rashad Johnson both added long pick-sixes, and the Lions’ top-ranked passing offense was held to just 228 yards.
“Our defense has made plays all year,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “There were a lot of good things that happened out there.”
Does this win change anything? No. Not really. The Cards will still finish with a losing record. They will have endured a lengthy losing streak for a third straight season. They will not be going to the playoffs for a third straight season — while two division opponents will.
A win over a club with its own litany of issues doesn’t mean much in the overall assessment of this team, but when you have talked to and worked with a group of men every week since late July, it’s hard to watch them continue to suffer.
When you see a little bit of worry lifted from the faces of respectable, hard-working men like Wilson, Larry Fitzgerald and Whisenhunt, it’s hard not to crack a slight smile when they finally taste a small reward for their work.
“When you go through a stretch like we did, it’s tough. It’s really hard, but our guys stuck together,” Whisenhunt said. “There was a lot of talk about if our team had quit. When it was 7-0 (Lions) and we were punting the ball there, I didn’t see any quit in our guys. I’m proud of them.”