"It worked," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.
One week after a debacle in San Diego -- and four weeks into a season wrought with turmoil, train wrecks and finger pointing, the Cardinals defense finally rose to a challenge.
Arizona forced four turnovers and held the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints to one touchdown in four red-zone trips to post a most improbable 30-20 win Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Rodgers-Cromartie put an exclamation point on the win when he snared the final of Saints quarterback Drew Brees' three interceptions and returned it for a touchdown with 10 seconds remaining in the game.
When asked if he thought about taking a knee to avoid fumbling, Rodgers-Cromartie's eyes widened.
"Take a knee?" he asked with amazement. "First of all, I was thinking how they did us last year [in the playoffs] -- running up the score. Those boys embarrassed us.
"[I was] trying to make a statement. I had my hand up and I was thinking touchdown the whole time. Wasn't taking no knee."
Rodgers-Cromartie may think better of that decision after he talks to coach Ken Whisenhunt. But in truth, the Cards needed to finish with a flourish. They needed to show some swagger. The post-Kurt Warner era has been anything but sunny in the Valley of the Sun.
First, heir apparent Matt Leinart was released in a move that has earned Whisenhunt heaps of criticism. Then Whisenhunt's chosen replacement, Derek Anderson, played so badly that the Cards turned to undrafted rookie quarterback Max Hall for Sunday's game.
In between those changes, the Cards were blown out in consecutive roads games -- 41-7 at Atlanta and 41-10 at San Diego.
"We've been a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde team," Wilson said.
Nobody expected Jekyll on Sunday. Not with a rookie quarterback making his first start. Not with an offensive line that had allowed 15 sacks (tied for second most in the league).
Not with a defense that was ranked 28th against the run, 29th overall and 31st in points allowed.
|New Orleans Saints|
|They were facing a rookie QB and a defense that hadn't stopped anybody in three weeks. The Saints put up big yardage but they turned the ball over four times and their kick coverage allowed the Cards short fields and an opportunity to score despite less than 200 yards of offense.|
|They started a rookie QB and used three rookie WRs yet they still beat the defending champs with less than 200 yards of offense. How? The defense stepped up after a horrid showing last week, forcing four turnovers. And the special teams gave the offense short fields.|
|By Craig Morgan|
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Not against the Super Bowl champs.
But there's a special aura forming around this franchise -- a shift in karmic balance that seems intent on paying the once-moribund Cards back for all those years of frustration and misery.
You can feel it growing with every win.
In Arizona's last home win (over the Raiders), Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski missed three field-goal attempts, including what would have been the game-winner from 32 yards out.
On Sunday, Saints kicker John Carney missed a 29-yarder, the Cards got two defensive touchdowns, great field position from their special teams and, in the wackiest play of the day, Hall fumbled at the 3-yard line after getting T-boned by Saints defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove.
The play should have killed the drive. Instead, Cards left tackle Levi Brown scooped up the ball and ran it in from 2 yards out for the first touchdown in his life.
"We've had enough of those things go against us," Whisenhunt said. "In the cosmic scheme of things, they balance out. The touchdown run that we designed to Levi worked just the way we had it planned."
Two days before the game, Whisenhunt was asked if, given all the offseason personnel changes and all the trials of the first five games, he would consider a 3-2 start a successful beginning.
He answered that question emphatically on Sunday.
"I'd have to say, yeah!"
As the Cards head into their bye week, the rival San Francisco 49ers have flat-lined, the Rams have reverted to 2009 form and the Cards are all alone in first place in the NFC West.
Despite all the wrong-doings, the Cardinals can do no wrong.
"It's a crazy league," Wilson said. "Teams win every week that aren't supposed to win and we're one of those teams today.
"Obviously we've been getting a lot of heat for the first quarter of the season. We got back to basics today. Let's see if we can keep it that way."