The Arizona Cardinals have been playing like wounded animals most of the season. Enemy after enemy (including enemies from within) have chipped away at the Cardinals strength, but like a wounded animal backed into a corner the Cardinals have fought viciously and have surprisingly won six games despite the various injuries, suspensions and free agent loses.
Stepping into Dallas the Cardinals have a poor record of performance. Historically the Cardinals have been a poorly run franchise that was the doormat of the old NFC East, lead by a powerhouse Dallas Cowboy's team that dominated the Cardinals for years. However times have changed and the Cardinals have been the team most recently experiencing success. A trip to the playoffs in back-to-back years, and several winning seasons have the Cardinals the more decorated team while the Cowboys have stumbled in a Jerry Jones induced mediocrity.
This is a game that the Cardinals can prove they are over the hump and are a new team.
The Cardinals started off with the ball and the first play of the game was a near interception by Carson Palmer. It seemed an ominous sign but was disregarded as Palmer connected on his next two passes for first downs followed up by a nice ten yard run by Andre Ellington.
But that near pick by Palmer was indeed an ominous sign as Palmer's next throw was an interception returned for a touchdown. Ouch. 7-0 Cowboys.
On the next series, Palmer completed a first down pass to Michael Floyd on the first play from scrimmage, a seeming sign from Bruce Arians that he isn't worried about Palmer, however the next few downs led to a three and out and a punt to the Brandon Weeden led Dallas Cowboys.
And with that punt the biggest test of the Cardinals defense began, stopping the record setting DeMarco Murray.
The series started off well with the Cardinals stopping Murray on first down but the Cowboys kept with the run and Murray got them the first down on two carries of 9 and 3 yards. The next two plays the Cardinals stopped the Boys short and had them in a much desired 3rd and long. The ever aggressive Todd Bowles sent the blitz and the Cowboys executed the perfect screen to Lance Dunbar that went for 40 yards. Thankfully the Cardinals defense stiffened up and let up only a FG giving the Cowboys a 10-0 lead.
Despite the poor results of the Cardinals offense thus far in the game, they had been moving the ball. As shown by a 31 yard grab by Larry Fitzgerald after a series of semi-successful runs by Ellington. Jaron Brown even made an appearance with an important first down grab on a third and short.
The quarter ended with the Cardinals down 10-0 but driving the ball into Cowboy territory.
The second quarter started with a fantastic catch by Fitzgerald. On a deep 9 yard slant, Fitz showed off his incredible receiving strength pulling in a bullet from Palmer and hanging on to the ball despite being a jungle gym for the Cowboys DB. On the ensuing set of downs Palmer found TE John Carlson twice, once when Carlson dropped a sure TD and on a redeeming TD grab putting the Cardinals down three. 10-7 Cowboys.
At this point in the game the Cardinals had out gained the Boys 129 total yards to 54. If not for that gift TD Carson gave the Boys, the Cardinals would surely be leading.
On the Cowboys first possession of the second quarter the Cardinals stumped the run and forced a three and out, with Alex Okafor getting a clean look and pressure on Weeden. So far The Oak (we'll work on his nickname) had been having a strong game with good pass coverage on Jason Witten and solid work in the run game.
The Cardinals responded with a Tedd Ginn punt return (seriously, he returned it 18 yards) and a three and out on a missed pass from Palmer. John Brown was open on a dig route but Palmer missed him. After the play it was reported that Ellington was going through the concussion protocol, a collective gut shot to Cardinals fans around the world.
The good news, Demarco Murray 5 carries, 17 yards and a 2.8 average on the game and a three and out forced by a very tenacious Calais Campbell and excellent coverage by Patrick Peterson on Dez Bryant.
On the ensuing Cardinals drive it seemed one doomed to fail with drops by John Hughes and Carlson. But a brilliant, double sack avoiding scramble led to a first down connection to Michael Floyd. The next play Ellington came back in, thankfully not concussed and bounced to the outside for a 20 yard run followed by a well executed screen (yeah, you heard that right a SUCCESSFUL SCREEN PLAY) to Ellington getting the Cardinals to the Dallas 11 yard line.
On the day, 5:13 left in the second quarter, Ellington had 14 carries for 66 yards and two receptions for 31 yards. A staggering 97 yards on just 16 touches. Did I mention it was still the second quarter?
Palmer continuing to look like a boss (outside that ugly INT TD) hit the fan favorite Jaron Brown for his first TD of the season, giving the Cardinals a 14-10 lead! It was a nice TD grab by Jaron, who had to lay out to catch the line drive pass from Carson Palmer.
With just over 4 minutes left in the second half, the 'Boys got the ball and went into their 4 minute offense. With the Cardinals defense so far setting the tone, it seemed momentum was on the Cardinals side. That feeling came to an abrupt end with Demarco Murray coming alive and quickly running for 20 yards and helping a suddenly accurate Weeden get the ball into the red zone.
But there was hope, and it came in the form of a Dan Williams sack that forced a third and impossible against this Cardinals defense. With 3 seconds left the 'Boys lined up to kick a FG that this writer had assumed was automatic as he walked away from the TV. Upon sitting down again he watched the tail end of a blocked field by none other than Cardinals special team's ace Justin Bethel. Patrick Peterson had a chance on the return but was caught from behind on a nice saving tackle.
Now let us raise out of our seats, raise our glass/cup/can in a salute to Bethel and a first half lead.
Half, Cardinals 14 Cowboys 10
Stats: Cardinals 206 total yards, Dallas 117 total yards. Cardinals had 6 receivers with a reception.
To start the half the Cardinals forced Dallas into a 3 and out, giving the Cardinals back with 13:55 in the beginning of the third quarter.
If not for a holding penalty and then a dropped pass I might have more to say about the Cardinals opening possession. John Brown heard footsteps, dropping an easy first down catch. Pressure on third down forced an completion. That was followed up by a big return by the Dallas return team that swung the momentum back into neutral.
Dallas began moving the ball down the field on a combination of a dumb penalty on Acho, a few solid runs from Murray and a nice catch by Beasley.
But then the Cardinals did what we've come to expect, lock it down. On the first play in the red zone the Cardinals stuffed Murray for a 1 yard gain. The next play, Weeden dropped back and hit Dez Bryant across the middle only to be laid out by a huge Deone Bucannon hit that dislodged the ball and made it third and long. It was reminiscent of a certain Cardinals safety known for his big hits. The excellent end zone stand ended on an excellent end zone play by Tyrann Mathieu, picking off a pass intended to Witten.
It was a fantastic, fingertip grab. Mathieu stepped in front of a deep out route at the last second and caught the ball on his outstretched finger tips, stayed on his feet, stumbling forward for a few yards before Witten pushed him down.
The rest of the way it was ugly football for both teams.
4th Quarter, Cardinals 14-10.
The fourth quarter however, as always for Cardinals fans held much excitement.
Starting off was a fourth and one call by Dallas that was stopped by the rookie Deone Bucannon, making a name for himself today with another big play.
The Cardinals didn't stop there, punching down the field on big plays to Tedd Ginn and Andre Ellington, moving the ball to the Cowboys one yard line. It took three plays but a pass from Palmer to Ellington put the Cardinals up 21-10.
The good feelings didn't end there, three plays later and Cromattie continued his dominate play way with an interception inside the Dallas 25 yard line. Palmer marched the Cardinals inside the Cowboys six yard line and Marion Geice was rewarded his first TD ever on a 1 yard rush. Cardinals 28-10.
The Cardinals weren't able to completely shut out Dallas as they were able to march down the field and score on a three yard TD pass to Dez Bryant. However an unsuccessful on side kick and three Palmer kneel downs secured the game and the Cardinals seventh win of the season. No Cardiac moment today men.