Pivotal calls help Cardinals save season

BY foxsports • December 7, 2014

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The next time Cardinals fans want to complain about getting the short end of the officiating stick, they would do well to remember the Chiefs game.

Arizona hasn't benefitted from many breaks on the injury front this season, but two pivotal calls by the officials on Sunday may have saved their season in a 17-14 win over Kansas City at University of Phoenix Stadium.

With Kansas City leading 14-9 midway through the third quarter, Chiefs tight end Anthony Fasano caught a 19-yard touchdown pass that would have given Kansas City a commanding lead. But Fasano was called for offensive pass interference on linebacker Larry Foote, negating the play. 

"He cracked me early on the play," Foote said. "He hit me pretty good from the side and when I got up, I looked back and (the official) threw (the flag). It was a little late but it was a definite clean call. I don't flop. That ain't my game."

On the next snap, Cardinals linebacker Alex Okafor intercepted Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, setting up Cardinals QB Drew Stanton's 26-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jaron Brown, followed by a two-point conversion that capped a 15-point swing and were the game's final points.

"My back judge (Lee Dyer) reported to me that he had Fasano blocking," referee Craig Wrolstad said in a pool report regarding the play. "Blocking downfield to create separation which allowed him to be open for the pass."

Fasano threw the ball toward the sideline after the play in anger.

"Whenever a touchdown is taken away in a key situations, it's pretty emotional," he said. "In a couple minutes there, it was a big momentum shift."

The other pivotal play came with the Chiefs driving in Cardinals territory late in the fourth, either for a game-tying field goal or go-ahead touchdown. Tight end Travis Kelce caught an 18-yard pass to the Arizona 23-yard line, but bobbled the ball as he went down.

As Kelce rolled over, he still had control of the ball but appeared to flip it as if to give it back to the officials. However, a Cardinals challenge and subsequent review determined Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon caused a fumble that cornerback Justin bethel recovered.

"The tight end caught the ball, took a number of steps, got hit as he was going to the ground," Wrolstad said. "Before any part of his body was on the ground, the ball came loose. The ball remained loose.

"The challenge was that we had initially ruled it was a catch and he was down by contact. When we looked at it in the replay, we saw that indeed the ball had come loose. He was not down by contact and then if there is a clear recovery, then we can reverse it and give the ball to the defense. And that's what happened."

Predictably, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians thought it was the correct call and Chiefs coach Andy Reid did not.

"From my vision, I thought he regained possession of the ball, but I'm not making that call," Reid said. "Go on to something besides the officials. I don't have anything good to say."

Bethel said he saw the ball come out so he immediately thought it was a fumble and jumped on it. Bucannon said he didn't have a good look at the play until he saw the replay. 

"I feel like they had plenty of angles to get a clear call -- to see if the ball was out or if he was juggling it or not," Bucannon said. "I'm happy they made the right call. I just want to be an impactful player for my team."

Bucannon didn't know how impactful that play was at the time, but at the very least he prevented overtime. At the most, he helped the Cardinals from losing the NFC's No. 1 seed and falling to No. 5 in one day.

Seattle (9-4) defeated Philadelphia (9-4) shortly after to keep the heat on the Cardinals (10-3) in the NFC West. The Seahawks already defeated Arizona in Seattle, so if the Cardinals had lost, they would have dropped into the conference's first wild card spot while the Seahawks took over the division lead.

"It was important for us to get this one. We have to protect our house," said Stanton, who completed just 15 of 30 passes for 239 yards, but didn't toss an interception. "You look at the way our defense played again. They stepped up huge for us."

Foote said defensive coordinator Todd Bowles made a halftime adjustment that helped the Cardinals corral Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (91 yards) after he rushed for 74 yards in the first half.

The Cardinals also benefitted from the play of rookie running back Kerwynn Williams, who on Friday came off the practice squad and stepped into the lead role after a season-ending injury to Andre Ellington. Williams became the first Cardinals running back to reach 100 yards (19 carries) this season.

"I knew Kerwynn was going to play well. That's why we made the move," Arians said. "He has been the only player on our practice field the last three weeks that made our players go 'Wow!'"

Sunday's victory snapped a two-game losing streak and gave Arizona back-to-back seasons of at least 10 wins for the first time since Don Coryell coached the Cardinals to three straight (10, 11 and 10) from 1974-76.

But the work is far from over. The Cardinals finish with three straight division games, beginning with a Thursday night game in St. Louis against a Rams defense that has pitched back-to-back shutouts and can get after the quarterback.

"We are on to 11 (wins) now," Foote said. "Hopefully, she's a little easier.

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