Lions fall late to Arizona, 31-24
By LARRY LAGE,
DETROIT (AP) The Arizona Cardinals blew a 17-point lead to the lowly Detroit Lions and needed to make a pressure-packed play in the closing minutes to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
Kurt Warner threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 1:54 left, lifting Arizona to a 31-24 win over Detroit Lions on Sunday.
“A win’s a win,” Warner said. “We are one step closer to our goal.”
Arizona (9-5) took the final step later in the day, clinching the NFC West when San Francisco lost at Philadelphia. The Cardinals have won consecutive division titles for the first time since 1974-75.
“We’re not happy with how we played,” Larry Fitzgerald said. “We know we need to improve, but the opportunity to win double digits, I don’t know the last time a Cardinals team was able to do that.
It wasn’t in Fitzgerald’s lifetime.
The Cardinals haven’t won 10 games since 1976.
The Lions (2-12) had the ball with 1:46 left with a chance to come back, but gained just 7 yards, and lost their fourth straight game.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz wasn’t encouraged that his team competed more than it did in a 48-3 loss last week at Baltimore.
“We could’ve jogged out to the field today and it would’ve been a better effort,” Schwartz said.
Arizona led 17-0 at halftime, then let the Lions make it 17-all in the third quarter and 24-all with 3:48 left.
“You’re not going to win a game playing the way we played, especially in the first half,” Schwartz said. “We put ourselves in a hole.”
The Cardinals went 58 yards on their game-winning drive, gaining 34 yards on Beanie Wells’ run, and Boldin broke two tackles on a third-and-3 to score to give Warner two TD passes.
“When we buckled down and we had to make plays, we did,” Warner said. “But for whatever reason we didn’t sustain that throughout the game. That’s what allowed them to get back into it.”
Warner was 23 of 37 for 233 yards with two TDs and an interception.
Wells ran for a career-high 110 yards and had an 18-yard, tackle-breaking TD that put Arizona ahead 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Fitzgerald’s TD catch gave Arizona a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter and finished with four receptions for 36 yards, less than a week after injuring his right knee in a loss to the 49ers.
Arizona’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had two interceptions.
Daunte Culpepper, starting for banged-up Matthew Stafford for a second straight week, completed half of his 12 passes for 64 yards with an interception and was benched in the second half.
“Daunte didn’t drop punts, Daunte didn’t drop passes, Daunte didn’t jump offside,” Schwartz said. “A quarterback is judged by points and we weren’t getting that done.”
The Lions scored 24 points in the second half with Drew Stanton, who was 10 of 19 for 72 yards with an interception and a TD rushing that tied the game late.
Maurice Morris, playing for the injured Kevin Smith, ran for a 64-yard score and finished with 126 yards rushing.
Dennis Northcutt fumbled a punt return, setting up Warner’s TD pass.
Three plays later, Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted Culpepper’s pass at midfield and set up Mike Nugent’s kick to put the Cardinals ahead 10-0.
Detroit responded with a couple of first downs to get into Arizona territory only to have two straight false starts that sent Schwartz stalking and stewing on the sideline on a drive that ended with Jason Hanson missing a 54-yard field goal.
“If we had more offensive linemen available we would’ve benched more,” Schwartz said.
Tim Hightower capped the ensuing possession with a 1-yard run that put the Cardinals ahead 17-0.
Some of Detroit’s disgruntled fans started chanting, “We want Stan-ton! We want Stan-ton!” in the hopes of getting 2007 second-round pick from Michigan State into the game. Culpepper took the field again and got sacked on the last two plays of another lackluster drive.
Fans cheered when they got their wish when Stanton was put in the game.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice,” Stanton said.
Detroit had comeback hopes in the third with Louis Delmas’ interception and 100-yard return, Morris’ long TD run and Hanson’s kick that tied it at 17.
The Cardinals provided another chance when Steve Breaston fumbled a punt return, giving the Lions the ball at their 17 early in the fourth quarter. But the Lions couldn’t take advantage, getting stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the 8 with 9:34 left.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “But I am pleased that we were able to take the ball there at the end and drive it down and score a touchdown.”
NOTES: The 26-year-old Fitzgerald became the youngest NFL player with 7,000 yards receiving. … Delmas is the only rookie in NFL history with a safety, interception and scores off a fumble recovery and interception.
Updated December 20, 2009