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Cardinals-Saints final score: Arizona gets big plays from Darren Fells, David Johnson in 31-19 win

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The Arizona Cardinals win a thrilling game against the New Orleans Saints on an excellent showing by the Cardinals offense.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

After an off-season of debate, speculation and surprisingly intense debates about the Cardinalsthird QB, it all ends with the start of the regular season. And thank the heavens for that!

The game was thrilling in typical Cardinals fashion. Highs, lows, near heart attacks and BIG plays. The Cardinals defended their turf and came away with a victory.

Just a heads up, being the first game of the season I might have gone a bit overboard in my recap. And by a bit I mean I just typed over 3000 words. So if you don't need a near play-by-play recap skip to the comments! BigRedBilly, you have to read enough of it to see your named referenced. :D

First Quarter

Football!!!!

The Cardinals started the game with the ball and started fast with three passes, the first two going for a first down to John Brown and the second to Michael Floyd. Floyd would later leave the game, aggravating his hand injury. The third pass was an eight yard pass to John Brown. On the first run of the game, Andre Ellington got a first down on a short run but was called back on a holding by Jonathon Cooper. But fear not, Ellington took the next play up the middle for a long first down run.

The offense kept humming with a short run by Palmer who had a little pressure up the middle and followed it up with a first down pass to Darren Fells. A facemask penalty pushed the Cardinals within the Saints ten yard line. The Saints defense held forcing the Cardinals into a third and ten from the ten.

Fear not Cardinals fans, Palmer found a TON of time on third, scrambling to the right like he was 25 again and setting up none other than John Brown for a ten yard touchdown! Palmer on the drive was 5-6, with the lone incompletion batted down and the aforementioned TD to John Brown. Ellington also had 2 carries for 16 yards.

Overall the line started with a good showing, the only weak play being Cooper who gave up the pressure on Carson Palmer, a missed block on an ILB who was able to stop Ellington in the backfield for a loss and the hold.

With the defense now on the field the Saints began quickly with a hurry up offense, catching the Cardinals defense slow footed. Could it be a new coordinator getting the plays in slow or just the defense not playing with urgency?

After two first downs, one aided by an off-sides by Alex Okafor the Cardinals were punished for a blitz by a timely screen call from Sean Peyton, netting the Saints 24 yards. But with their backs against the wall the Cardinals defense held tight with nice coverage by Patrick Peterson and good pressure from Okafor. The Saints had to settle for a 37 yard chip shot putting the score to 3 - 7 Cardinals.

The Cardinals second series didn't start well with Fells tripping up Ellington and a nice defensive play by the Saints secondary to knock the ball away from rookie running back David Johnson on second down. However the offense wasn't worried as who else but John Brown was there again for a 3rd and 11 first down grab. The next pass on first down was to Larry Fitzgerald, his first catch of the game and his franchise record 164th consecutive game with a reception.

The Saints defense held firm on a near Brandon Browner interception and forced the Cardinals into a 3rd and five. Palmer found John Brown streaking deep but Brown was unable to hang on forcing a Drew Butler punt.

Butler's punt was a pathetic 30 yarder. Did the front office make a mistake keeping Butler?

The Cardinals defense stepped back out on the field and continued to maintain their run stopping ways, forcing Bree's to beat them on his arm alone. However that's something Bree's can do and despite needing every down to get there he has been able to place some excellent passes on some really well covered receivers. The Saints got one first down before the first quarter ended.

Some notes through the first quarter, zero sacks. By either team. For the Cardinals that's a great for their offensive line however for their defense that scares me a little. In order to beat guys like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, you have to get pressure in their faces as the Rams showed today with an overtime victory over the Seahawks. Overall the defense looks good, the run defense looking very stout and coverage being mostly excellent, however the lack of pressure is allowing a very good QB too much time to find small windows.

Second Quarter

The second quarter started with a stop by the Cardinals defense, shutting down the run and sniffing out the screen. Tyrann Mathieu made an appearance blowing up the screen forcing the punt.

The offense started with a great run from Ellington on a beautiful pull block from Cooper. Chris Johnson got his first carry of the game, bouncing out left for a four yard run. On third down the Cardinals offense hit the second level with a short pass to Fells who took it 53 yards after a nice block by Jermain Gresham and a BEAUTIFUL block by a WR soon to be named (didn't see who it was on the playback). Fells also threw down a nasty stiff arm and has looked like the TE the Cardinals have been needing since (insert player and year from BigRedBilly's memory here).

The next play the offensive line again gave Palmer all the time he needed. Attempting to go deep Palmer tried to hit John Brown who was interfered with on the play. Honestly the penalty was very weak but there was also a holding and an illegal contact call on the defense, so regardless of the PI the Cardinals would have moved the chains.

After the PI the Cardinals got the ball on the one yard line and went into their jumbo package with backup center A.Q. Shipley as a fullback. Palmer handed the ball off to Ellington who punched it in for his first rushing TD of the season. Touchdown Cardinals!

Saints 3 Cardinals 14!

So far the Cardinals have had two scoring downs of their three possession, each spanning over 8 plays and the first going 90 yards, the second going 88.

With the Saints offense back on the field they again took advantage of the Cardinals over aggressive defensive play hitting a huge screen play for 22 yards but again the Cardinals defense does what it has for the past three years, bending but not breaking. The Saints even tried some old trickery with the time honored "try to get the defense to jump off sides on fourth down" move. Thankfully the D didn't and the Saints were forced to punt.

Unluckily for the Cardinals however was that they had too many men on the field during the ensuing punt. The penalty gave the Saints a first down and allowed Brees and the Saints offense to continue driving and chipping away at first downs with a dink and dunk style of play. A Honey Badger missed tackle later and the Saints were on the board with a Brees to rookie Brandon Coleman touchdown. Cardinals 14 Saints 10.

This score was brought to you by bad tackling and a huge penalty by the special teams. Bleh. James Bettcher needs to get his defense under control and playing the way we know they can.

The Cardinals offense stepped back onto the field with 5:14 left in the second quarter. David Johnson took the kick off to the 36 yard line on a nice return. Chris Johnson came in on first down and was stuffed for a 1 yard loss. Palmer hit Jaron Brown for his first catch of the game on a nice 8 yard out route. Palmer put the ball right on the money on tight coverage. But pressure allowed from Earl Watford almost got to Palmer who overthrew Chris Johnson deep and the Cardinals offense was forced to punt.

Drew Butler continued to baffle fans with a very nice punt, pinning the Saints on their ten yard line with less than 4 minutes left in the half.

The Cardinals stuffed the Saints on first down but again were bitten by another well executed screen play from the Saints that got them 13 yards and the first down. Very frustrating to see the Cardinals get owned by screens because the rest of their play has been very good.

Thankfully the Cardinals defense tightened up and a Marcus Golden QB hit forced Brees into a hard throw that Brandon Coleman was unable to haul in. The Saints were forced to punt and the rookie J.J. Nelson took a nice punt 11 yard to the Cardinals 37. Palmer than hit Fitzgerald for his second reception and a first down after a failed screen on first down (will we ever be able to run screens)?

The offense got the ball back with less than a minute and was unable to move the ball enough to get a field goal. Palmer took a few shots deep and almost had Nelson on one. Palmer also decided to run and got 12 yards but took a nasty hit as time expired. Palmer made some bad decisions there attempting for the TD and deciding to run with just seconds left on the clock.

First Half Cardinals Stats

Carson Palmer: 12 - 20, 161 yards and 1 TD

Andre Ellington: 5 carries, 30 yards and 1 TD

Darren Fells: 3 receptions, 65 yards

John Brown: 4 receptions, 46 yards and 1 TD

Defense has zero sacks, 1 TFL and just 1 QB hit by the rookie Marcus Golden

Notes: On the day the Cardinals defense has played okay to our standards. They have been able to hold Dree Brews to just ten points through one half, however seven of those was due to a very, very, very stupid special teams penalty that could come back to haunt the Cardinals. The offensive line has played very well giving up just a few pressures but no hits or sacks. Their play can only get better as they gain more experience together. They will need it for the Rams.

Third Quarter

The third quarter started very badly for the Cardinals with a 63 yard pass to rookie WR Willie Snead who juked out Jerraud Powers and broke a Rashad Johnson tackle, setting up the Saints for some type of score at the Cardinals 12 yard line. Again, thankfully, the Cardinals defense held and forced the Saints into a field goal after the Cardinals finally shut down a screen pass.

Saints 13 Cardinals 14

The Cardinals offense came back out but stumbled into a three and out, giving the Saints the ball back way too soon.

With the Saints offense back on the field and starting to find their groove, the defense needs to find their footing. The Saints started on first down with a pass that was deflected beautifully by Mathieu. A second down run netted seven and on third Bree's found an open Mark Ingram in the flat to again dink and dunk the Cardinals defense for a first.

A hold on the next play pushed the Saints back into a 1st and 20 and gave the Cardinals a chance to get the ball back. The Saints tried to set up the screen but it was finally defended well by the Cardinals. The Saints tried to get some yards on a run but Calais Campbell was there with a beautiful swim move and a tackle-for-a-loss. A holding penalty and some nice tackles forced the Saints to punt.

The Cardinals took over the ball with decent field position but struggled a bit as pressure started to get to Palmer. On third and five Palmer found the future HOFer Fitzgerald for a first. The next play Palmer had a wide open Fitzgerald but again the pressure forced Palmer into a bad throw.

After a TV timeout Ellington took a nice run up the middle, somehow squirting out of the pile for the first down but at the end the ball was punched out and the Saints recovered it for the first turnover of the game by either team. Ugh, my heart. #CardiacCards.

With the defense pressed back into action far too early Alex Okafor took the long way around and was able to sack Brees for his first sack of the game and the first sack by either team. The coverage was excellent and definitely deserves most of the credit. However the next two plays hurt as Ingram was able to gash out an eight yard run and then Brees hit Ingram for a first down on a short pass.

But on the next play Mathieu made another play, coming across the formation and chasing down Ingram for a TFL. Brees again dinked the Cardinals but a tipped pass by Powers off Colston's hands landed directly in Rashad Johnson's hands for an INT!

Palmer and the offense came out and Palmer threw a strike to Fitzgerald for 29 yards! The protection was excellent. The Cardinals offense was stuffed after that but was in range for aChandler Catanzaro field goal to push the Cardinals lead.

Saints 13 Cardinals 17

The Saints ended the quarter with a short 1 yard run.

Fourth Quarter

The Saints started the fourth with more dinking and dunking, getting to a third and two. Peterson was burnt (for the first time tonight) by rookie Brandon Cooks for a big first down. Mathieu than almost changed the game with a tipped pass that was almost intercepted byKareem Martin who almost corralled the ball on diving effort.

Brees though seemed un-phased hitting Colston for a first the next play. The Saints keep trying to run but with minimal success against a stout run defense. On third and long a beautiful move by Frostee Rucker forced Brees into a bad pass into a well defended screen. However the Saints were in field goal range and were able to knock in the kick to bring the score back to a one point game

Saints 16 Cardinals 17

With the offense stepping back on the field, the feeling that a score here would be necessary to win the game. The offense began moving after a PI called on the Saints, forced by John Brown and his quickness. Ellington then took a run for 16 yards up the middle.

Fear struck my heart on the next play as Ellington took another carry and just collapsed without contact. He was helped off the field and I helped myself to a strong drink.

The offense though came out firing after the injury. A deep attempt to Nelson was again interfered by the Saints, giving the Cardinals another first down. Chris Johnson came into the game to sub for Ellington and took the next carry for nice first down run. Again the Cardinals fed C. Johnson who bounced it out for five yards.

The next series brought as big a smile to my face as I've had in years, Palmer stepped back into a beautiful pocket and threw a perfect 17 yard pass to TE Darren Fells for a Cardinals touchdown! A Cardinals TE catching a TD? Yes, please!

Just when Cardinals fans were feeling scared (Cardiac Cards all over again?), the offense comes out and gives us hope. Time for the defense to end the Saints hopes.

Saints 16 Cardinals 24

Buuut, have I mentioned Cardiac Cards? The Saints offense came out again, dinking, dunking and throwing to their RBs. Again Mark Ingram was left open and was able to take a simple swing pass 59 yards, putting the Saints on the Cardinals 16 yard line. The pass also gave Brees over 300 yards in the air, all of them seeming to be on passes to his RBs.

The defense with its back to the wall seemed to find their ground sacking Brees (Okafors second) and stuffing Ingram for a one yard loss. Again the Saints turned to the screen but Kevin Minterwas ready, hunting down Ingram and bringing him down, forcing the Saints into another field goal.

Saints 19 Cardinals 24

With 6:45 to play, the Cardinals offense is in position to win the game and keep the Saints off the field.

The Cardinals came out with a pass to Fitzgerald for nine yards but Fitz left the field after taking a nasty shot to the... jewels. Chris Johnson still in for the injured Ellington and took the second down carry for five yards and the first. Fitzgerald came back in the next play and made the Saints pay with a HUGE 22 yard reception, leaping over a defender like he was 25 again (but landing like he was 31).

Again the Cardinals turned to the run and C. Johnson rumbled forward for another four yards. The next play the Saints responded with a run stuff on Johnson and on third Bruce Arians decided to go for a pass. Palmer's pass was well defended. Too bad he didn't see a wide open Johnson in the flats.

With a 56 yard FG option available, Arians decided to trust his defense and Butler, who nailed it with Jaron Brown pinning the kick on the two yard line. With 2:07 left my heart was thumping!

The Cardinals defended the first two plays well forcing Brees and the Saints into a third and six. Pressure from Okafor forced Brees into a contested throw that was either a big hit or an interception. Fourth and six pending, my heart rate is climbing as the game enters the two-minute mark. But WHAT?! The Saints elected to punt and trust their defense!

With the ball back in the Cardinals hands, they have to end it! Cardinals run the ball for a few yards. Heart rate hitting dangerous levels. Next play, Palmer play action, throws it to the rookie David Johnson WHO TAKES IT 55 YARDS FOR THE TD!!!!!!!

WHAT AN ENDING! Bruce Arians, you have huevos as big as Texas.

End of the game stats

Palmer: 19 - 32, 307 yards and 3 TDs

Ellington: 12 carries, 69 yards and 1 TD

Fells: 4 receptions, 82 yards and 1 TD

Fitzgerald: 6 receptions, 87 yards

John Brown: 4 receptions, 46 yards and 1 TD.

Notes: Zero sacks given up by the offensive line. Two sacks by Okafor, Tyrann Mathieu is my defensive MVP and the offensive line my offensive MVP.a