Cardinals relieved to escape with win

AP Sports Writer

TEMPE — Standing on the sideline after Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski let a short, potential game-winning field goal fly, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt couldn’t believe what he saw.

A 90 percent kicker from inside 40 yards, Janikowski had pushed the kick left as time expired.

“I was thinking he missed it, he missed it, but I wasn’t sure until the officials gave the signal,” Whisenhunt said Monday.

The officials, after a slight-but-agonizing delay, did give the signal for the miss Whisenhunt and the rest of the Cardinals didn’t expect but were glad to have.

Oakland coach Tom Cable, anticipating Janikowski splitting the uprights, walked onto the field screaming, fist in the air, only to turn slump-shouldered back to the bench.

Across the field, Whisenhunt went from hopeful to exuberant in an instant, his players and coaches rushing past.

One errant swipe of Janikowski’s left foot and Arizona had held on for a 24-23 win after another so-so performance from quarterback Derek Anderson and not just one, but two punts that caromed off unsuspecting players.

Yeah, the Cardinals were feeling pretty fortunate to be 2-1 instead of the other way around.

“Obviously, happy we got the win,” Whisenhunt said with a slight chuckle. “It’s a lot easier to continue to work on getting better when you’re in a little better frame of mind, so that was a good thing.”

The Cardinals at least got off to a great start; LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown.

After that, Arizona slogged its way through a not-always-pretty game that came down to Janikowski’s fate-turning kick.

Defensively, the Cardinals were solid, getting a big goal-line stand in the fourth quarter and holding the Raiders to field goals after the two miscues on the punt returns.

The two special-team gaffes were frustrating, the first was probably unavoidable. Raiders punter Shane Lechler didn’t hit the ball very well and it bounced off the legs of Matt Ware, who was trying to set up a block for returner Andre Roberts.

The second one was probably Roberts’ fault. The rookie was set up too deep and didn’t do a very good job of warning his teammates that the ball was short and it hit Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Oakland recovered both miscues and now the Cardinals might be looking for a new returner.

Bad as those mistakes were, at least they’re easy to fix.

The offense’s continuing struggles are a little tougher to smooth over.

Arizona hasn’t been able to generate much of anything offensively this season and misfired most of the day against the Raiders, managing just 227 total yards.

Running back Beanie Wells gave the Cardinals a spark, gaining 75 yards on 14 attempts after missing the first two games because of arthroscopic knee surgery.

Anderson, though, continued his trend of inconsistency.

He missed badly on several throws early, including a couple that might have led to touchdowns, and finished 12 of 26 for 122 yards with an interception. Anderson did throw two touchdown passes, the 8-yarder to Larry Fitzgerald in the third quarter becoming the eventual decisive score, but the Cardinals need to see more stability from the quarterback who led them to run Matt Leinart out of the desert.

“Obviously, Derek needs to improve and he’ll tell you that,” Whisenhunt said. “I think he played a little better in the second half for us, but there were some things he missed in the first half we’ve got to improve on. We can’t miss those plays, we can’t leave them on the field.”

Some of the miscues might be expected, even for the two-time defending NFC West champions. This year’s team is young, full of new faces in key places, everyone still trying to find that meshing mojo the previous two teams had.

Still, Arizona needs to get in synch quickly, clean up those miscues with a road game against San Diego next, followed by defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans at home.

The good news is the Cardinals found a way to pull out the win against the Raiders, even if there was a little luck involved — 2-1 feels a whole lot better than 1-2.

“Any win is good, no matter what,” Wells said. “When the win-loss ratio is there, nobody looks at how you won the game, only that you got the win.”