Blocked FG, punt return began Arizona’s turnaround
The Arizona Cardinals’ season turned around on a blocked field
goal and a 99-yard punt return.
On Nov. 6, Calais Campbell knocked down what would have been the
winning field goal for St. Louis, then rookie Patrick Peterson
returned a punt from a step outside his goal line for the winning
score in overtime. The Cardinals’ six-game skid was history.
Three more overtime victories followed, capped by the 23-20 win
over Seattle on Sunday. Arizona finished with a 7-2 spurt – a
record only surpassed in that span by Green Bay, New Orleans and
New England -and wound up 8-8 overall. Not great, not enough to
make the playoffs, but enough to provide momentum and optimism
heading into 2012.
For all the success, a large question looms. Just who will be
the quarterback when the Cardinals take the field next season?
Kevin Kolb, brought to the desert in a big trade and signed to a
huge contract, knows he will have to earn the job from fledgling
John Skelton, the strong but raw second-year pro who was 5-2 as a
starter when Kolb was injured – 6-2 if you count the victory over
San Francisco, when Kolb was knocked out of the game on the third
play with a season-ending concussion.
”That’s the only way that you approach anything,” Kolb said as
he sat in front of his locker on Monday. ”That’s what this league
is built on. It don’t matter who you are, I think any quarterback
can attest, any player can attest, as soon as you get comfortable
in your shoes, that’s whenever you’re out of here. So I’ll push
harder in this offseason than I’ve ever pushed before in this
offseason and come back ready to roll.”
Skelton said he hopes to have a fair shot at winning the
starting job, but he knows there are many aspects of his game that
”I know I’ve got to get better,” he said. ”I know that
there’s some plays I made, but at the same time there are a lot of
plays I didn’t make and a lot of stupid mistakes. But it’s a
starting point, something to build on for next year.”
Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who with the team’s strong finish has had
only one losing season in five years in Arizona, would only repeat
his longstanding mantra that ”we’re always going to play the best
player, the player that gives us the best chance to win.”
Regardless of who the quarterback is, he can count on Larry
Fitzgerald, who despite coughing up blood on the sideline – the
result of what eventually was diagnosed as a bruised lung – made a
pair of magnificent catches to set up the winning field goal on
Fitzgerald finished with 80 receptions for 1,411 yards. In his
eighth year, he joined Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison
as the only players to top 1,400 yards receiving in four
”That’s my job, to catch the ball,” said Fitzgerald, who
signed an eight-year, $120 million contract – nearly $50 million
guaranteed – before the season began, ”and it doesn’t matter how I
catch it, just get it done.”
Fitzgerald traced the season’s turnaround to a team meeting
after Arizona lost at Baltimore 30-27, blowing a 24-6 halftime
lead, to fall to 1-6.
”Usually I’m not a big fan of team meetings,” he said. ”I
think it’s just a lot of talk, but I think that meeting was
different. Coaches were there, players were there. Everything that
was bothering us, everything that was on guys’ minds, we cleared
the air about it. I think as a team we just came together at that
Still, it seemed Arizona was headed for another loss before
Campbell knocked down that field goal try the following Sunday at
home against the Rams. It was one of three blocked field goals for
the 6-foot-8 defensive end, who had a breakout season and will be
the No. 1 target of the Arizona front office for a new contract.
Peterson had two blocks as well, the last in Sunday’s win over
The Cardinals’ first-round draft pick, the No. 5 choice overall,
tied an NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns. He almost
had a fifth on Sunday, a 42-yard return that ended when Seahawks
punter Jon Ryan tripped him up. Peterson, slowed by a strained
Achilles tendon, insisted his legs got tangled, that there is no
way a punter, for heaven’s sake, would tackle him.
”I tackled myself,” he said.
Peterson had 699 yards in punt returns, second most in NFL
history behind Desmond Howard’s 875 in 1996.
Thrust into the lead cornerback role when Greg Toler was injured
in the preseason, Peterson made the Pro Bowl as a special teams
player. He showed rapid improvement as a pass defender in the final
half of the season.
The Cardinals had an awful time adjusting to the new defensive
scheme of first-year coordinator Ray Horton. But they were vastly
better in the second half, getting outstanding play from rookie
outside linebacker Sam Acho and second-year inside linebacker Daryl
Washington. Fellow inside linebacker Paris Lenon led the team with
102 tackles, his fourth 100-tackle season in the last five
Running back Beanie Wells gained the respect of his coaches and
quieted critics with a 1,000-yard rushing season despite having to
play most of the year with a sore left knee. He said he might have
to have surgery in the offseason.
”Man,” he said, looking at the knee brace in his locker on
Monday, ”I hope I never have to wear that thing again.”
When Wells returns next season, he will have the help of Ryan
Williams, Arizona’s second-round draft pick whose broken right leg
in the preseason knocked him out for the year.
A main area that needs improvement, Whisenhunt said, is the
offense’s penchant for slow starts. The Cardinals trailed at
halftime in seven of their eight victories.
The Cardinals may be in the market for a new starting left
tackle. Next season would be the final year of Levi Brown’s
contract, and the structure of the deal would count $16.9 million
on the team’s salary cap. Arizona may try to restructure that
contract or simply look elsewhere.
Other than that, Whisenhunt said, ”I don’t anticipate a whole
lot of change” in personnel.
The Cardinals will need all the momentum they can get to become
a playoff contender again, considering the schedule for next
season. Opponents for each team were revealed Monday, and Arizona
will have road games against Green Bay, Atlanta and New England as
well as home games against Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia.