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Around the NFC West: Cards' playmaking

The Arizona Cardinals, for all their struggles at quarterback and on defense in recent seasons, have done a good job collecting playmakers over the years.

That paid off Sunday when one of those playmakers, LaRod Stephens-Howling, turned a short pass from Kevin Kolb into a weaving 52-yard touchdown in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys. As much as Arizona wouldn't mind following a more conventional path to winning, the team has matched its victory total from last season largely through the spectacular.

Patrick Peterson's punt returns were critical in victories against Carolina and St. Louis (twice). Stephens-Howling, owner of three career kickoff-return touchdowns, helped beat Philadelphia with a late over-the-shoulder grab for a 30-yard gain on fourth down -- the type of play few running backs could make. The play Stephens-Howling made Sunday was even better.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Stephens-Howling couldn't remember how many would-be tackles he avoided on the game-winning reception. McManaman: "Once Stephens-Howling caught an outside screen pass from Kolb and turned around to look downfield, he saw a handful of teammates plowing the road in front of him with an assortment of blocks. One of them was a huge containment block by receiver Andre Roberts against linebacker Terence Newman." Noted: Roberts showed up huge in this game as a receiver and, in this case, as a blocker. Looks like he has a chance to finish strong for a second consecutive season.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says there was more to the Cardinals' victory than big plays on offense. Somers: "It would be easy to concentrate on the startling offensive turnaround. But the Cardinals won because their defense played well throughout, even though it was presented with terrible field position time and again. The Cardinals sacked quarterback Tony Romo five times, and while the Cowboys didn't have a turnover, they scored just one touchdown, and they had to go only 33 yards for that one."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Kolb took a significant step forward Sunday. Bickley: "Kolb, who was returning from a four-game absence because of a foot injury, amassed 203 of his 247 passing yards in the final 30 minutes. He did not commit a turnover. He made plays with his feet. He made nice throws in overtime, when the Cardinals offense actually won the game. Finally, Kolb felt part of the team and looked like part of the solution. It was his first win since opening day. It relieved the growing pressure between his ears. It will mute some national experts who believe the Cardinals flushed away good money trading for the former Eagles backup."

From Somers and McManaman: What were the Cowboys doing when they called timeout, effectively icing their own kicker?

Also from Somers: thoughts on all aspects of the Cardinals' performance. Somers: "I think for the first time in five seasons, the Cardinals defense is playing the way Ken Whisenhunt envisioned. The Cardinals defense has yielded five touchdowns in its last five games. The parts are fitting together now, and the group is a nice mixture of experience veterans and productive youngsters. There has been a lot of focus on the contributions of young players (deservedly so) but some veterans have been big factors, too. Strong safety Adrian Wilson, linebacker Paris Lenon and cornerback/safety Richard Marshall, have played well."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers postgame thoughts, including one from Darnell Dockett, who supports a run-oriented offense.

Also from Urban: Cardinals notes.