Cason, Ballard step up for Cardinals

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
10:28
PM ET
videoNASHVILLE -- Antoine Cason knew all week his time had finally come.

It had been a tough season for Cason, who went from being an everyday starter at cornerback for the San Diego Chargers to being the third or fourth option for his new team, the Arizona Cardinals. But when rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending knee injury, the direction of Cason’s season changed.

And he proved to everyone during the Cardinals’ 37-34 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans that he’s more than capable of seeing the field. But he wasn’t the only one who made a statement. Tight end Jake Ballard replaced Rob Housler in the starting lineup and while catching all three of his targets for just 13 yards, he had the Cardinals’ lone receiving touchdown.

“Jake played great,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “They were going to play a ton of cover two and the tight ends were going to have to play big and they did.”

But it was Cason who stole the show and saved the day.

He had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the Cardinals in what they thought was command, 34-17, and then another in overtime that led to the winning field goal.

“They picked on the wrong guy once too many times,” Arians said. “Twice too many times and Antoine has been waiting his turn and it was great to see him make those plays. It was huge plays, especially the touchdown.”

Cason nearly dropped the interception he returned for a touchdown but was able to keep his focus long enough to secure it. But just because he had two interceptions in his first significant action of the season doesn’t mean the six-year vet is going to bask in the afterglow.

“It feels really good,” Cason said. “I know I have a lot of work to do, so this week for me now that I’m thinking about the game and everything that’s happened to get back to my fundamentals this week and try to get better.

“I will get better for next week. So, that’s really what’s going through my mind as crazy as it sounds. I definitely feel I will get better throughout the rest of the season.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer said Cason’s heroics set an example for the younger Cardinals, who Palmer had to make sure didn’t lose focus heading into overtime. He made sure they understood what was at stake.

But for them to see Cason come off the bench and make two influential plays against the Titans shows that it’s possible for anyone to play that role.

“Cason hasn’t played much [and] he can make the critical play, the game-saving, the game-winning play,” Palmer said. “It’s good for guy’s confidence.”

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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