Sunday, September 30, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Cards 24, Dolphins 21 (OT)
By Mike Sando
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 24-21 overtime win against the Miami Dolphins at University of Phoenix Stadium:
What it means: The Cardinals improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1974 with one of the more remarkable victories in a long line of them at University of Phoenix Stadium. Jay Feely's overtime field goal gave the Cardinals only their fifth victory in 81 chances since 1988 when trailing by 13-plus points at halftime. This victory kept the Cardinals alone atop the NFC West.
What I liked: Kevin Kolb overcame eight sacks and a crushing fourth-quarter interception to throw the tying touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in regulation. This had the feeling of a defining performance for Kolb, who now has two fourth-quarter drives to the tying or winning touchdown this season.
Arizona continued to produce outstanding results with its blitzes from inside linebackers Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon. Washington forced a critical turnover in the final three minutes of regulation. Lenon forced an interception with pressure in overtime.
The Cardinals battled back from a 13-0 halftime deficit to make the game competitive in the third quarter. Kolb's 24-yard throw to Andre Roberts against a Dolphins blitz required quick thinking. That play sustained Arizona's drive, and Kolb finished that drive with a scoring pass to Larry Fitzgerald.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson made big plays in his return from injury. A third-and-long sack in the second half helped keep Arizona in the game. Wilson ran over Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas before taking down quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Wilson also made a diving attempt to pick off a pass. He snatched the back half of the ball. Officials ruled the play a pick, but replays convinced them to reverse the ruling.
Cornerback Greg Toler picked off Tannehill, atoning for what seemed like a debatable interference call against Toler.
The Cardinals made an effective adjustment to quickly take a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter. They shifted to heavier personnel, ran the ball on first down, then connected on deep play-action passes for Rob Housler (33 yards) and Roberts (46-yard touchdown). Those plays showed what Kolb can do at his best.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson's 61-yard fumble return gave Arizona possession at the Miami 3-yard line while holding a 14-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter. That play seemed to put the Cardinals in prime position to put away the Dolphins, if not for a turnover on Arizona's ensuing possession.
What I didn't like: Cornerback William Gay struggled against Dolphins receiver Davone Bess and others lining up against him, including Brian Hartline. The Cardinals' previous opponents didn't seem to target Gay as frequently. The Dolphins went after him from the beginning and forced the Cardinals to shuffle their personnel. This was the first time Arizona really missed cornerback Richard Marshall, who signed with Miami during the offseason and was on the field for the Dolphins in this game.
Peterson made uncharacteristic blunders as a return specialist. He risked a turnover early by failing to call for a fair catch when there was no room for a return. He muffed other punts. Peterson even fair-caught a ball at the Arizona 3-yard line, an inexplicable lapse. Peterson returned four punts for touchdowns last season. He made little impact as a returner in the first three games and was a negative factor in this one. Perhaps he's trying to do too much.
The running game continued to falter. The Cardinals went to a no-huddle offense for stretches. Ryan Williams wasn't part of that package, further reducing the running threat. Miami entered this game leading the NFL in yards per carry allowed. Arizona was without running back Beanie Wells and tight end Todd Heap. Arizona was one-dimensional on offense.
Rookie right tackle Bobby Massie surrendered three first-half sacks working against Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake. Miami lists Wake at right defensive end, but he has played primarily on the left side this season. That was the case Sunday. Arizona had to help Massie in protection after Wake's fast start. Wake collected a fourth sack against Massie in the fourth quarter when the Cardinals did not help the rookie.
Kolb had been a little careless in the red zone and it finally caught up with him in stunning fashion. The fourth-quarter pick he threw from the 3-yard line proved devastating. Instead of building on a 14-13 lead, the Cardinals watched Tannehill connect with Hartline for an 80-yard touchdown on the next play. A two-point conversion staked Miami to a 21-14 lead, a crushing swing.
Stunning stats: Hartline caught 11 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown. Bess caught seven passes for 123 yards. Tannehill topped 400 yards passing. All this against an Arizona defense that had contained Tom Brady and Michael Vick, while holding all three previous opponents to fewer than 20 points.
Head-scratching decision: The Dolphins' decision to pass the ball while protecting a 21-14 lead in the final three minutes proved costly. Washington sacked Tannehill and forced a fumble. Teammate Vonnie Holliday recovered. Washington has emerged as one of the best defensive players around. Joe Philbin also chose to ice the kicker with a timeout before Feely's winning field goal try, despite some evidence the tactic isn't always effective.
What's next: The Cardinals visit the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.