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Sunday, October 10, 2010
Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 30, Saints 20

By Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Taking stock following the Arizona Cardinals' 30-20 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:

What it means: The Cardinals are 3-2 and they own the outright lead in the NFC West for the first time this season. They are the only NFC West team with a road victory. They are the only NFC West team with no defeats within the division. That means Arizona is in prime position heading into its bye week. The down time should allow rookie quarterback Max Hall to settle into the job. He was a little wild at times in his first NFL start. He took a physical beating, too.

Big Revelation: Arizona's defense atoned for an embarrassing showing against San Diego last week. Defensive end Darnell Dockett forced a fumble, allowing safety Kerry Rhodes to record his second fumble return for a touchdown this season. Outside linebacker Clark Haggans blasted Saints quarterback Drew Brees for a sack. Outside linebacker Joey Porter pressured Brees into a hasty throw, allowing cornerback Greg Toler to collect the interception. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's interception return for a touchdown with 10 seconds left sealed the outcome. This was the type of performance the Cardinals needed from their defense, particularly with a rookie quarterback making his first start.

Finding Fitz: Hall was far from perfect, but he made sure Larry Fitzgerald had chances to make plays downfield. Hall showed good anticipation in connecting with Fitzgerald for gains of 25 and 26 yards. Fitzgerald's sure hands paid off on special teams, too. He recovered the Saints' onside kick with 1:48 remaining.

What I liked: Hall kept coming back for more punishment even though the Saints were beating him up. He appeared to injure a knee and a foot. I have no idea how he avoided a concussion while scrambling toward the goal line and absorbing a hit so hard it knocked off his helmet. Hall showed grit and he made a few positive plays. He was also fortunate teammates recovered a couple of fumbles, including one by tackle Levi Brown in the end zone.

What I didn't like: What was Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt thinking when he allowed Hall to throw from an empty backfield on third-and-1 while holding a 10-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining? Even if you're going to pass, there's no reason to telegraph a throw by motioning Tim Hightower out of the backfield. Hall threw incomplete. The pass fell well short after guard Deuce Lutui stepped on Hall's foot. Hall limped off the field. The play was nearly a debacle. Running the ball was the percentage play in that situation. A conversion would have left the Saints with far less time to mount a comeback. Brees wound up throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 remaining, cutting the deficit to 23-20. Whisenhunt later called a bootleg pass on third-and-9 as Arizona tried to run out the clock. Tight end Ben Patrick fumbled. The Cardinals were fortunate the Saints didn't return the fumble for a touchdown.

What's next: The Cardinals have their bye in Week 6, followed by a trip to Seattle.