Wild finish finally gives Arizona close victory
Four times this season the Arizona Cardinals had found a way to lose a close game at the end. A play here, a play there, and the outcomes would have been different.
Then came Sunday's game against St. Louis, where those failures, in the words of coach Ken Whisenhunt, ''pale in comparison'' to what the Cardinals had to pull off to escape with a 19-13 overtime victory.
Special teams were truly special at the end.
First, Calais Campbell blocked what would have been the game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, then Patrick Peterson bounced like a pinball through the defense in a record-breaking 99-yard punt return in overtime.
Players had the day off on Monday to savor the unlikely triumph that snapped a six-game losing streak.
So what if it was a pair of 1-6 teams fighting to avoid the cellar in what might be the worst division in the NFL. The Cardinals celebrated as though they had just made the playoffs.
''It was much needed by our football team,'' Whisenhunt said at his Monday news conference. ''I think you could see that in the emotion of our guys in the locker room afterward and even on the field. When you come in here every day and you're working and you want to do well and things don't go your way, it's tough. It's really tough.''
Arizona seemed headed for another of those excruciating losses when the Rams' Josh Brown lined up for a 42-yard field goal as regulation was about to end. But the 6-foot-8 Campbell, with a generous push from teammate Darnell Dockett, soared to block the attempt and send the game into overtime. It was the fourth blocked field goal of his career.
''My mindset was just we've got to find a way to get a block,'' Campbell said. ''Whatever I've got to do I've got to find a way to get a block.''
That was amazing. The next big Arizona play was mind-boggling.
Nobody fields a punt at his own 1-yard line - except maybe Peterson, Arizona's dynamic rookie.
Peterson had a short time earlier been called for pass interference, a call he disputed after the game, on a play that moved the game-winning field goal try well within Brown's range. The block gave him a reprieve.
And boy did he make the most of it.
''I'm thinking touchdown each and every time I get back there and return that kick,'' Peterson said Monday on NFL Network. ''I tell the guys in front of me `I don't like fair-catching so hopefully you can block these 10 guys that are coming down that are trying to tackle me. If you give me five yards, I'll meet you guys in the end zone.'''
Peterson became the first player in NFL history to have three punt returns for touchdowns in his first eight games. His was the second punt return for a score in overtime and, by far, the longest. In fact, the 99-yarder ranked second-longest of any punt return.
''He's a very talented young player and I think that he's a very mature young player,'' Whisenhunt said, ''and understands what he needs to do. Thank goodness that we got him.''
Almost overlooked in the wild finish were the two plays where the Cardinals stopped Steven Jackson, first on third-and-one, then on fourth-and-one at the Arizona 33-yard line. O'Brien Schofield made the first tackle. Dockett and Daryl Washington teamed up on the second.
The Rams, with eight offensive touchdowns all season, managed just three field goals against Arizona.
The Cardinals got some good news on Monday when Whisenhunt said cornerback Michael Adams seemed to be fine after a scary moment late in Sunday's game. After a violent collision in the secondary, Adams was taken off in a cart with his neck immobilized as a precaution. Adams was riding an exercise bike at the Cardinals' facility on Monday, Whisenhunt said.
The coach acknowledged how much quarterback Kevin Kolb will want to play next Sunday, when the Cardinals visit his former team in Philadelphia. Kolb sat out Sunday's game with a turf toe injury on his right foot. Backup John Skelton got the start and after some shaky moments, including a pair of safeties, directed the team on a nine-play, 84-yard touchdown drive capped by his 13-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald to tie it at 13-13 with 4:57 to play in regulation.
''"It sounds cliche, but we just have to see how it progresses,'' Whisenhunt said. ''I was listening to the radio this morning and somebody said, `Turf toe, what's that? That sounds like a sissy thing.' It's not. It's a very painful injury and something that's very difficult, especially for a quarterback, to be able to drop and push off of, or run out of the pocket and escape things.''