The Arizona Cardinals conquered their House of Horrors with a new approach: scary defense.
A team built around the passing of Kurt Warner and receiving of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin could be downright dominant with a stingy defense. And it sure wasn’t the offense that carried the Cardinals to just their third win in 18 visits to the Meadowlands, 24-17 over the New York Giants on Sunday night.
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“Tonight,” Warner said, “we definitely fed off our defense.”
In its last visit to Giants Stadium, Arizona forced four turnovers and bewildered Eli Manning with its blitzes. The Cardinals finished 3-15 at the Meadowlands, but this win lifted the defending NFC champions into first place in the West Division at 4-2 with their third straight victory.
“We feel like we’ve got one of the best defenses in the league,” Boldin said. “It’s tough for teams to move the ball on them, let alone score on them.”
Safety Adrian Wilson had an interception and a fumble recovery, Antrel Rolle picked off Manning to clinch it, and less-heralded CardinalsJason Wright, Tim Hightower and rookie Beanie Wells found the end zone.
“Our game plan was to get (Manning) rattled, make him make quick decisions and quick throws,” linebacker Gerald Hayes said. “He made some plays, but they came up short.”
The Giants (5-2) lost their second straight and were let down by, of all people, their normally solid punter. Jeff Feagles struggled, helping give the Cardinals a solid edge in field position for much of the prime-time matchup.
Feagles said he used the wrong kicking angles trying to keep the ball away from returner Steve Breaston.
Wilson, Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who left late in the third quarter with an ankle injury – X-rays were negative – in the Arizona secondary benefited from the confusion the defense caused for Manning, who was 19 for 37 and threw three interceptions.
“We played team defense,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Everybody stepped up. When we had interception opportunities, we made them.”
And they made the Giants look puzzled on offense.
“They are constantly moving around and flipping safeties and they did a good job with that,” center Shaun O’Hara said. “Sometimes we caught them and sometimes they caught us.”
Rodgers-Cromartie was the featured character in two noteworthy first-half plays that both wound up in the end zone. He ran stride for stride with Domenik Hixon, then leaped to wrestle the ball away from the receiver in Arizona’s end zone in the first quarter.
He went from hero to villain in the second period on a bizarre play. In man coverage against Mario Manningham, Rodgers-Cromartie used another acrobatic leap. But he deflected the ball with his left hand about 15 yards downfield, where Hakeem Nicks caught it in stride and sped to his fourth touchdown in as many games. That 62-yarder put New York ahead 14-7.
“Weird,” Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Quickly, the Cardinals got some points back. Boldin, questionable for the prime-time game with an ankle injury, beat Bruce Johnson for a 44-yard catch-and-run to the New York 19. Neil Rackers‘ 30-yard field goal ended the first-half scoring.
The Giants used a replay challenge to thwart Arizona’s opening drive. Justin Tuck forced Hightower to lose the ball at the New York 27, but officials ruled Hightower down before the ball came out. Coach Tom Coughlin flung his red flag and the call was overruled.
It was one of New York’s few victories all night.
“Anytime you turn the ball over four times, you don’t have much of a chance to win,” Coughlin said.
That overrule didn’t help the Giants much, but another turnover did. Warner threw short of Fitzgerald, who had only two receptions for 14 yards in the opening half. Terrell Thomas got his third career interception, second against Warner, and New York went 29 yards on two runs by Brandon Jacobs, who ran over Wilson for a 4-yard TD.
Wells ran 13 yards for his first NFL touchdown late in the second quarter after mediocre punting by Feagles, the oldest punter in the league at 43. Feagles really struggled in the third quarter, as well, helping the Cardinals. But not as much as team leaders Fitzgerald and Wilson.
Fitzgerald broke free down the middle for 26- and 27-yard completions after Arizona got the ball at its 45 on Feagles’ 35-yard punt. Hightower scored from the 1.
Wilson picked off Manning at New York’s 20 when defensive end Calais Campbell tipped a pass, and third-string running back Wright scored on a 6-yard middle screen – the same play the Cardinals used to beat Philadelphia in January’s NFC title game – to make it 24-14.
NOTES: Warner finished 26 of 30 for 231 yards, and Wells rushed for 67 yards … Fitzgerald finished with six catches for 83 yards … Rookie Nicks caught four balls for 80 yards … Wright said he saw a field mouse run onto the field and “wasn’t sure if it was a big, old rat.” He got plenty of teasing from teammates when he scurried away from the rodent.