And it’s got the Cardinals at .500 for the first time since the second week of the season.
Patrick Peterson returned a punt 32 yards and John Skelton threw 32 yards to Larry Fitzgerald to set up a 22-yard field goal by Jay Feely that gave the Cardinals a 20-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in their third overtime win in seven games.
Arizona became the ninth team in NFL history to win three overtime games in a season and just the second to win all three at home.
The Cardinals (7-7), winners of six of their last seven, trailed 17-7 entering the fourth quarter. They have been behind in the second half in all seven of their victories.
”We have a flair for dramatics,” Fitzgerald said. ”Today was kind of typical Cardinals fashion.”
By that, he means the offense starts slowly, the defense plays well – and all heck breaks loose at the finish.
”It wasn’t pretty, but we had so many different guys make plays throughout the course of the game, especially in the second half,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ”The way our team fights back is really something special. What I told them is their will to win is pretty strong.”
The win kept alive Arizona’s long-shot hopes for the playoffs.
Both teams were without their starting quarterbacks because of concussions. Skelton, in relief of Kevin Kolb, completed 28 of 36 for 313 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Seneca Wallace, starting for Colt McCoy, was 18 of 31 for 226 yards, including a 76-yard TD play to rookie Greg Little, Cleveland’s longest play from scrimmage in four years.
”We had them on their heels and when it gets to that point, it is about not making mistakes,” Wallace said, ”not turning the ball over and giving them some easy points, and making plays. They played well on defense and made some plays. I need to help us out a lot more and make some more plays for our team.”
Little caught five passes for a career-best 131 yards in the Browns’ fourth straight loss and seventh in eight games. Peyton Hillis gained a season-high 99 yards on 26 carries for Cleveland (4-10).
Skelton, a second-year pro out of Fordham, improved to 7-2 as a starter, including 4-1 this year. That doesn’t count the previous week’s 21-19 victory over San Francisco, when he came in after Kolb took a knee to the head on the Cardinals’ third play. Todd Heap, sidelined most of the season with hamstring problems, caught seven passes for 69 yards.
Arizona’s offense, so slow to start even through the team’s recent success, scored the final 13 points of the game.
Skelton completed 5 of 7 for 82 yards in the 11-play, 87-yard drive that culminated in Beanie Wells’ 1-yard touchdown run that cut the lead to 17-14 with 8:33 remaining in regulation.
A holding penalty on Cleveland’s subsequent kickoff return pinned the Browns to their 10 and O’Brien Schofield got Arizona’s first sack of the day on the elusive Wallace to push Cleveland back to its 5. Schofield got through on the next play as well, grabbing Wallace by an ankle and spinning him to the ground as the quarterback lost the ball.
Initially, Wallace was ruled down on the play, but Whisenhunt challenged and the call was reversed. Replays showed the ball coming loose well before Wallace fell backward onto the turf. The Cardinals took over at the Cleveland 5 needing only to punch it in to take the lead.
But Jabaal Sheard got his second sack, and Cleveland’s fourth of the game and Arizona settled for Feely’s 33-yard field goal that tied it at 17 with 5:40 to play.
Cleveland won the coin toss to get the ball first in overtime, but the Browns managed only one first down before having to punt. Brad Maynard had artfully kicked the ball away from Peterson, the spectacular rookie whose four punt returns for scores have tied an NFL record.
”I thought we did a very nice job, even on that last punt,” Cleveland coach Pat Shurmer said. ”We had a guy down in his face and you know we were trying to kick the ball out of bounds or try to pin him down there and the guy in his face thought he saw the fair catch.”
He doesn’t know Peterson very well, then. The rookie disdains the fair catch, especially with the game on the line.
He fielded it near his left sideline and ran across the field before making a run for it near the right sideline. He took it to the Cleveland 40 and, two plays later, Skelton found Fitzgerald, more open than he’d been all day, far downfield.
”We’d been running crossing patterns all day,” Skelton said. ”I think the last two drives, when we were in two-minute mode, we ran probably three or four of them, so they expected the same thing. … Larry just made a good fake, a good cut, and we were able to get down there and let Jay do the rest.”
Feely who booted in the chip shot to give Arizona another OT triumph and make Whisenhunt the franchise’s winningest coach with 43 wins.
Two weeks earlier, the Cardinals beat Dallas 19-13 in overtime. The first OT victory was 19-13 over St. Louis on Nov. 6. Cleveland played its first overtime game since a 26-20 loss to the New York Jets on Nov. 14 of last year.
Wallace evaded Arizona’s rush much of the game. On the Browns’ big play, he scrambled away from the blitz to his right and spotted Little in a one-on-one mismatch with linebacker Daryl Washington. The rookie receiver hauled in the pass and easily outran his pursuer for the touchdown that put the Browns up 17-7 with 3:01 left in the first quarter.
Cleveland took the opening kickoff and powered down the field behind Hillis, who scored on a 1-yard run. Phil Dawson’s 44-yard field goal made it 10-0 in the second quarter.
With a no-huddle offense, Arizona went 65 yards in 90 seconds in the waning moments of the first half, Skelton hitting Andre Roberts with a 9-yard TD pass to cut the lead to 10-7 with 19 seconds to go.
Notes: Little’s TD catch was his 55th reception of the season, surpassing Eric Metcalf for second-most by a Browns rookie. Kevin Johnson has the team’s rookie record with 66 in 1999. … Cleveland lost three players – LB Titus Brown (knee), WR Jordan Norwood (concussion) and LB Ben Jacobs (concussion).