Just like that, the Arizona Cardinals are above .500 and one game out of first place behind the Seattle Seahawks as they beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday from University of Phoenix Stadium 22-6.
Like last week against Tampa Bay on the road, it wasn’t pretty. But the Cardinals made adjustments in the second half in route to victory.
“You can call them ugly wins or any kind of wins you want,” said Cardinals head coach bruce Arians after the game. “As long as they’re wins, I love them. Best birthday present I have had in a long time was that second half of football.
They have now won two games in a row despite the fact that they have scored a combined 35 points. Much credit in the last two victories are due in large part to the play of the Cardinals defense.
“That’s where we’re built and that’s the way we want to be,” explained Arians. “We want to have a defense that’s dominating and a special teams that’s dominating. I thought they both did that.”
The Cardinals defense forced 3 turnovers including interceptions from reigning defensive player of the week, Patrick Peterson (his third in two games) and also one from linebacker Darryl Washington making his first appearance of the season after serving a four game suspension. He had a monster 2013 debut performance with nine total tackles (three for loss), two sacks and the aforementioned interception.
“I didn’t know I had a game like that but I just try to come out here and play the best football I can play and help my teammates out,” Washington said. “Now it’s time to clean it up and get ready for San Fran.”
The defense put points up on the board as well after defensive end Calais Campbell sacked quarterback Cam Newton in the end zone for a safety. Campbell on the game had two sacks and a forced fumble to go with the safety. That forced fumble by Campbell led to a Cardinals score as well.
“Yeah I think our defense can be very special, but we still made too many mistakes,” explained Campbell. “In the second half we did what we had to do to make our corrections. We could still get better.”
The Cardinals overall had seven sacks in the game.
I’ve played long enough in this league to know that a win is a win, an ugly win is a win, but I have to continue to work to get better and make more plays for us.
As for the offense. They continue to do just enough to win games. Carson Palmer struggled for much of the game turning the ball over a total of three times and leading the team to only one long touchdown drive in the game that didn’t begin with great field position because of a turnover on the other side of the ball.
“Not good enough,” mentioned Palmer who was 19 for 28 for 175 yards, one touchdown along with the three interceptions on Sunday. “I’ve played long enough in this league to know that a win is a win, an ugly win is a win, but I have to continue to work to get better and make more plays for us.”
That one drive however, was what Arians called one of their best drives all season which saw the run game cause much of the damage led by rookie Andre Ellington. It was capped off by a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown.
“It was huge,” mentioned Arians. “It was part of the problem in the first half. That mix-and-match and staying balanced, that’s one of our best drives, I thought-finished off drives, that we’ve had all season.”
“It always feels great, but I feel better for the offensive lineman up front,” said Mendenhall on getting into the end zone for the second time this season. “They work really hard and we reap the benefits.”
There were eyes on the offensive line tonight, especially on left tackle Bradley Sowell who made his first ever NFL start on Sunday after the Cardinals traded Levi Brown during the week. He held one of the top defensive lineman in the league, Greg Hardy, without a sack. Hardy just so happened to be Sowell’s teammate back in college at Mississippi.
“At first my mouth was so dry, my mouth was stuck to the top of my mouth,” Sowell joked. “But once I got into a rhythm, man I felt so comfortable. I feel like I belong so that feels nice.”
“Without looking at tape I really didn’t notice him,” Arians added. “When he’s not noticed that’s a pretty good thing.”
The Cardinals spot in the NFC West standings is a definite positive now, but have to quickly get back to work as they travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers next weekend.
They have not won in San Francisco since the Super Bowl year in 2008.