GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11: Cornerback Patrick Peterson #21 of the Arizona Cardinals returns a punt for a 89 yard touchdown against the Carolina Panthers during the NFL season opening game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Carindals defeated the Panthers 28-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
On Sunday evening, Arizona Cardinal fans left the University of Phoenix Stadium both excited and exhausted after narrowly defeating the Carolina Panthers, who were lead by rookie quarterback Cam Newton. There were also murmurs of questions, lots of questions which concerned the crowd as to how this team will play throughout the rest of the season. While there are very concerning issues we all saw in this week one victory, I'd like to highlight the positives I believe the coaching staff will be able to build on.
After all the questions during the preseason about how he would perform, Beanie Wells ran for 90 yards on 18 carries and had a touchdown on the Cardinals opening drive. Although he mishandled a pitch from Kevin Kolb, Wells did a good job securing the ball which is definitely an upgrade from last year. With the running game appearing to be coming together, I would have preferred to see it move the chains when the Cards had the ball and the lead with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
The new quarterback in town
Kevin Kolb spent most of the day on the run instead of sitting comfortably in the pocket and was still able to throw for over 300 yards, two touchdowns and best of all, no interceptions. Kolb was also able to hit Larry Fitzgerald on a 34 yard completion on third down late in the fourth quarter helping to run down the clock. Of course the passing game didn't look perfect and there will be plenty to build on. I was pleased to see Kolb escape pressure and identify where the blitz was coming from and able to hit open receivers for two long, critical touchdowns.
The run defense
If you watched the the game from whistle to whistle, it probably felt like Cam Newton came out throwing and never looked back, torching the secondary for over 400 yards in his first start ever. If you paid close enough attention, you might have noticed the young linebackers and defensive line held the Panthers running game to 74 yards on 27 attempts. (2.7 YPC) Daryl Washington was the star of the defense with 2 interceptions, (that's how I saw it) a sack and was all over the field appearing to be involved in every good play on the defensive side of the ball.
An electrifying punt return
Up until the 7:15 mark in the fourth quarter, it had been a long day for Patrick Peterson in the defensive game. In a flash that all changed in one 89 yard punt return for a touchdown which accounted for the game winning score. This return was set up by good blocking and topped off by Patrick Peterson showcasing the speed, size, strength and vision he was drafted for.
Finding a way to win
Other than during the Kurt Warner Era, the Cardinals haven't been known for their ability to find ways to win a game. This is the biggest silver lining I have been able to come up with considering the defense gave up over 400 yards passing to a rookie quarterback who had half of a preseason to practice with his teammates and the offense wasn't able to capitalize for a single point on two trips to the red zone. The Cards didn't play well all day, but they made the plays they HAD to make. In the fourth quarter, they held the Panthers to zero points and prevented the game tying score on five straight pass attempts from inside the ten yard line as time wound down.
This isn't the way I wanted to see the Cardinals win, but if I've learned one thing over the last few years, it's that the Cardinals seem to play up or play down to their competition. It's always been their ability to finish a game or not finish a game that defines their season. So for me, this is as good of a start for this team as I could ask for.