It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but in a league that doesn’t keep track of how you win, the Arizona Cardinals’ first of 2013 was as sweet as any. A late touchdown run by Rashard Mendenhall gave them the lead, and the defense held on late as the Cards defeated the Lions 25-21, bringing them to 1-1 on the season, and giving head coach Bruce Arians his first win as a non-interim head coach.
The win, which an emotional Arians would describe as a complete “team win” in the locker room after the game, was indicative of the grit, determination, and tenacity of a competitive-minded team.
With Larry Fitzgerald sitting most of the second half out, the Cards relied more on an ensemble cast than any one star. In fact, the two leading receivers for the Cards were rookies Kerry Taylor and Andre Ellington, but more about them later.
Don’t let me short-change the true star, however. After allowing two Calvin Johnson touchdowns in the first half (one of which went the distance at 72 yards), the stout Cardinals defense kept the Lions offense off the board in the second half.
The climax would come in the final Lions drive, with Patrick Peterson causing a Calvin Johnson incompletion after getting burned all game, and the Honey Badger Tyrann Mathieu making the emphatic 4th down tackle short of the sticks to seal the deal. Two Carson Palmer kneels later, the score was final.
While the win was well-earned, some responsibility is also on the Detroit Lions, too. With 8 penalties for 101 yards, we’re looking at a much different game if the Lions don’t beat themselves by staying out of flag trouble.
As a fan, there is in fact a lot to nitpick about the win. However, due to the result, I’d argue that there were more winners than losers for the Cards in the game.
It’s only fitting that the game ball goes to the man handing out the game ball. In his home head-coaching debut, Bruce Arians coached his team to perfection, with plays coming from all facets of the game.
A rigorous offseason, fine adjustments after a rough loss, and a beautiful in-game orchestration showcased Arians coaching prowess. With the offense failing to get going, Arians demonstrated his “mad scientist” offensive approach, dialing up a Patrick Peterson trick play that would set up a field goal.
Certainly, this won’t be Arians’ last home victory this season.
Rashard Mendenhall and the run game
With Larry Fitzgerald out and Carson Palmer failing to convert on third down, the Cards needed someone to step up on offense to stay in the game (and later win it).
Enter Rashard Mendenhall. The former Steeler ran for 66 yards on 15 carries, including the one-yard game-winning touchdown with two minutes left.
Much like last week, Mendenhall’s numbers aren’t what you’d call “gaudy,” but consistent positive yardage and timely chunk runs provided offense when the Cards were struggling. Andre Ellington would also be in on the action. Which brings me to…
Andre Ellington had a breakout performance, running for 20 yards on four carries, and adding 42 yards on two catches. One of the catches was Palmer’s lone touchdown of the day, a beautifully executed wheel route that would put the Cards up at the time.
However, Ellington wasn’t the only new face to show up in crunch time. As a matter of fact, this face is even newer than Ellington.
Called up from the practice squad earlier in the week, undrafted free agent Kerry Taylor out of Arizona State showed up big late, making all three of his catches in the second half for first downs on scoring drives. His performance would yield him the game ball in the locker room.
While he is no replacement for Larry Fitzgerald, his clutch performance went a long way to secure the win.
Second half defense and special teams
The true MVP of the game, the Arizona defense was lights-out in the second half of Sunday’s game. After allowing 245 yards in the first half, the Cardinals would allow only 84 yards in the second half. The defensive stop to end the game capped an incredible performance for the unit.
The other unit that deserves its praises is the special teams unit, chiefly Jay Feely and Justin Bethel. With 13 of Arizona’s 25 points (four field goals and an extra point), Jay Feely was kicking bombs all day, putting points up on almost every Arizona drive.
Justin Bethel, on the other hand, was responsible for the blocked field goal in the fourth quarter, halting any and all Detroit momentum from that point forward. Clutch is an understatement.
Larry Fitzgerald’s hamstring
One thing that’s sure to give grief to Cardinals fans is the uncertain status of star receiver Larry Fitzgerald. After battling with hamstring issues all week, Fitz decided enough was enough, taking an early exit to the game. He caught just two passes for 33 yards.
With the Saints coming up, the Cardinals will need their leader, preferably on the field if they have any hope of keeping up with Drew Brees and his high-powered offense.
Third down conversions
When your team is converting one out of eleven third downs, you know that there are problems, especially when you consider that the one conversion was because of a penalty.
I expect Bruce Arians to iron this out. He’ll need to if the Cards are to compete with the Saints in New Orleans next Sunday the 22nd. Stay tuned for that preview!