Breaston, Wilson help Arizona survive opener
Penalties, errant passes and fumbles - lots of fumbles. Arizona's first game of the post-Kurt Warner era was no thing of beauty.
The Cardinals survived with a 17-13 victory over the Rams in St. Louis, thanks in large part to the play of wide receiver Steve Breaston and safety Adrian Wilson.
Not only did Breaston catch seven passes for a career-best 134 yards, he made two potentially game-saving tackles. On the second one, after quarterback Derek Anderson fumbled, Breaston ran down Rams defensive lineman Clifton Ryan and stripped the ball from him just shy of the goal line. Arizona center Lyle Sendlein recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
''That's a game-changing play for us,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Monday. ''When you talk about kids that are watching this game and how it should be played, if you want to point to one thing, that play is what you point to - the hustle, the never-give-up, the never-quit. ... He had a very good game as an offensive player, but that play really distinguished who Steve is and what he means to our team.''
Breaston said he learned his lesson on this type of game in the 2009 Super Bowl, when Pittsburgh's James Harrison intercepted Warner's pass in the end zone and returned it 100 at the end of the first half. Breaston was in the game and watched that play unfold. Now, when something like that happens, there is no watching anything. He immediately takes off for the ball carrier.
''In the Super Bowl, I looked and I was trying to take in what was going on,'' Breaston said. ''By the time I looked up, I caught him at like the 1-yard line. Now I'm just reacting. When I see what's going I just go toward the ball. I don't stop and think about it.''
The play would have meant nothing had Sendlein and other Arizona linemen rambled down the field, too.
''That's just something our coaches always talk about is finishing every play,'' Sendlein said. ''It goes to show that the effort that Steve had and that we had up front was to never quit and run all the way.''
Wilson, meanwhile, blocked a field goal, sacked Sam Bradford and intercepted the Rams rookie quarterback twice, the last one to seal the victory as the game ended. Wilson joked that it was not ''the best game of my illustrious career.''
But it had to be among them.
''I think we all know who Adrian Wilson is, his reputation, what type of player he is,'' Whisenhunt said. ''But when he does what he did yesterday, he just goes to further solidify the legend of who he is.''
Anderson, who won the quarterback job from Matt Leinart after two pre-season games, completed 22 of 41 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. He went through a rough stretch in the third quarter and took a nasty hit, but came back to direct a seven-play, 86-yard drive, culminated with a 21-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
''I think you have to judge it by how he finished the game and how he hung in there,'' Whisenhunt said . ''Look, he took a huge shot to the chest and I didn't know if he was going to be able to continue. Then we took a time-out, he got h is breath and then he hit a big third-down play after that, that speaks volumes about leadership, about the intensity, about the competitor that he is.''
Anderson and Fitzgerald had been out of synch most of the day. Fitzgerald, who had missed the last three pre-season games with a bruised knee, was far from his normal self. And it was clear the two had not smoothed out their timing.
''We'll be good,'' Anderson said. ''Obviously not having him for a month or three weeks throws a wrench in things. I don't know how he exactly feels but the man shows a lot of toughness to go out there and play. I had a knee injury in the past and I know its tough to trust it and its tough to do the things that you really want to do.''
Arizona fumbled seven times losing four of them.
''It's not very often that you're going to win a game on the road with four lost fumbles,'' Whisenhunt said.
Two were by running back Tim Hightower, one inside the Rams' 10-yard line and one late in the game that gave St. Louis a last-gasp chance for the victory. Replays of the second fumble seemed to show that Hightower was down before the ball came out, but that's not how the officials saw it.
No matter, Hightower said.
''I was more surprised in myself that it even came out, especially after the first one, especially in that situation. The game's pretty much over. All we've got to do is just keep the ball. It shouldn't even have come down to that. You should never leave it in the refs hands.
Wide receiver Early Doucet re-injured his groin in the game and was to be evaluated further. Running back Beanie Wells sat out the contest after missing practice all of last week with a sore knee but he is expected back for Sunday's game at Atlanta.