Going inside Arizona’s upset of the Super Bowl champs

Kerry Rhodes and the Cards were impressive, stunning the defending champion New Orleans Saints

Let’s be honest, Arizona pulled off a major shocking upset yesterday against the Saints, which keeps the Cardinals a tough team to figure out at times.  It seems that sometimes they need to be kicked in the mouth a few times in order to play inspired football.  If that’s the case, perhaps the Cards are done taking shots this season and are primed to hand out a few more like they did against New Orleans.

This game was definitely won by the defense, but rookie Max Hall (17/27, 168, INT) made some big throws when needed.  Hall’s second throw of the game, however, intended for Larry Fitzgerald (7 receptions, 93 yards) was not one of them.  After the Saints turned the pick into three points on a Carney field goal, Hall didn’t let the early mistake rattle him, but the Cards’ second drive stalled and they were forced to punt.  Quickly, the Saints took a 10-0 lead on a Drew Brees pass to Jeremy Shockey on a 1 yard dump pass.

On the Cardinals’ next possession, Hall led his team to their first points via a Jay Feely 37-yard field goal.  After the Cards and Saints traded punts, the Cards’ defense forced its first turnover when Paris Lenon intercepted a pass that deflected off Ladell Bett’s hands.  What happened next was one of the strangest plays of the year so far.

Setting up shop on the Saints’ 2-yard line, the Cards failed to punch it on on first and second down.  On third down, Hall dropped back, rolled right, came back left and tucked the ball to run.  Hall, going head first, was brutalized by three Saints as the ball was knocked out of his grasp.  Left tackle Levi Brown scooped up the loose ball and fell forward for two yards for the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the afternoon.  ”I was actually more concerned Max was OK,” Brown said.  ”I didn’t even know it was a touchdown.  Seems like it took the referee forever to signal a touchdown.  I was just standing there.  Then I got a little excited.”  Hall, meanwhile, laid on the turf apparently trying to figure out where he was.  Although Hall would be alright, he sat out the Cardinals last offensive series just before the half.

Aside from the obvious benefit of the six points, Hall may have cemented himself as the leader of the Cardinals with that one play, which showed a tremendous amount of heart.  There’s no doubt that Hall will be advised to protect himself from here on out, but at least for that one play Hall earned a tremendous amount of respect from his teammates as a serious competitor and fearless leader.  ”The guy fought.  He scrapped.  He’s just the ultimate competitor,” Fitzgerald said.  ”I haven’t seen a guy take a hit like that, down at the goal line, in a while.  He picked himself back up and shook off the cobwebs and helped us win.”  Hall definitely made some mistakes, including two fumbles along with his interception, but there’s no doubt the Cardinals are a better team with him running the show instead of Derek Anderson.  Hall displayed touch and accuracy in one game that Anderson hadn’t shown in his entire career.

The Saints were able to add another three points on Carney’s 32-yard field goal.  When the half broke, it was pretty much all Cardinals’ defense all the time.  At 11:39 left in the fourth quarter Kerry Rhodes made Cardinals’ history when he returned a Ladell Betts fumble (forced by Darnell Dockett) 27-yards for a touchdown, staking the Cards to a 23-13 fourth quarter lead. Rhodes returned a fumble for a touchdown for the second straight week, which no other Cardinal had ever accomplished.

On the Saints’ very next possession, Greg Toler intercepted a Drew Brees pass intended for Jeremy Shockey.  The Cardinals took over on their won 39-yard line and gained 7 yards on first and 2 yards on second.  On 3rd and 1, therefore, Ken Whisenhunt called a pass, which fell incomplete to Max Komar.  With a ten point lead with 7:24 left in the game, there is absolutely no reason to pass the ball on a 3rd and 1.  Even if you don’t get the first down, on a run you can at least run the clock down all the way through the punt.  It just makes no sense.  There’s also no reason to put the ball in the air, which can be intercepted for a huge play by the Saints. After Drew Brees added an impressive touchdown strike to Robert Meachem, pulling the Saints within three, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie iced the game by grabbing a pick-six, making the score 30-20, which is how the game ended.

DRC’s decision to run the ball back for a touchdown was nothing but selfish football at it’s worst.  He should have fallen down and the Cardinals would have completed their huge upset at home.  The fact that DRC was willing to jeopardize that team goal for his personal satisfaction is very distressing, especially from someone that was supposed to establish himself as a defensive leader this year.   I guess he learned nothing from Nate Clements goat of the week play against the Falcons, which lost the game for the 49ers.  Maybe DRC just got caught up in the moment and didn’t even think to go down.  ”I was thinking touchdown the whole time,” DRC said.  ”I wasn’t thinking no knee.”  The decision, therefore, is indefensible, but DRC sites the fact that the Saints ran up the score on the Cardinals last year in the Divisional Playoff game.  That’s no excuse.  First, why wouldn’t the Saints continue to push?  Second, it’s no reason to jeopardize this game; it was a dumb, selfish decision.

I don’t want to get too worked up, though.  The Cards’ defense came up huge all game and this was an enormous win to build on going into the bye when wide receivers Early Doucet and Steve Breaston should come back from their respective injuries.

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