Cards know how fragile two minutes can be

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Eric Winston had yet to finish one of those small bottles of hotel shampoo before he was working on the two-minute drill during training camp with the Arizona Cardinals.

It took him about two days to realize his new coach, Bruce Arians, was very serious about situational football.

“You don’t usually do that,” Winston said with a smirk. “I think it stresses the importance of all the situations, understanding the situations, knowing what we need to do. And doing it.”

Just as it didn’t take long for Winston to find out how important the two-minute drill was to the Cardinals, it took the Cardinals just as long to find out how fragile those 120 seconds are.

Two minutes can be a long time. It was long enough for the Cardinals to lose a game, and long enough for them to win. Both have happened already this season -- and it’s only Week 3.

The Cards lost to St. Louis in Week 1 on a field goal with 40 seconds remaining, and then last Sunday they beat Detroit after Rashard Mendenhall ran in for a touchdown with 1:59 to play, and the defense held on.

“It is a peeve of mine if we don’t win in two-minute or if we lose a game in two-minute like we did against the Rams,” Arians said. “But we won the game this week so we can build on it, and I think they’re starting to believe it now.”

All it took was a defensive stand.

The Lions regained possession with just under two minutes left in the game, and with a quarterback like Matthew Stafford and a receiver like Calvin Johnson, that's enough time to score two or three times over. And the Cardinals knew it.

Arizona gave up a 17-yard pass on the first play, but then shut down the Lions on four straight plays, capped by a game-winning tackle by rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

“It came down to two minutes and that was something we were so confident in, that we would win the ballgame with two minutes left, because we do it every single day,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “Even when we are tired at some point, this is going to help us.

“We know going to New Orleans, it might just come down to that.”

Against Detroit, Arizona’s defense clamped down when it counted. In seven plays after the two-minute warnings in both the first and second halves, the Cardinals have allowed only 25 yards. They limited Stafford to 5.2 yards per pass attempt, and they were stronger against the run, allowing minus-1 yards on two carries.

The Cardinals’ performance was a product of their preparation.

Arians finished every practice in OTAs and training camp with a two-minute scenario because he knew that during the season it’d be tougher to work on the two-minute drill. The Cardinals usually work on the two-minute drill on Thursdays, but even then Arians has to be careful because players' legs are usually tired at that point in the week.

He spent a “ton” of time on two-minute scenarios in Indianapolis, and approached the drill in Pittsburgh similar to how he’s doing it in Arizona.

But his players don’t need to look at Arians for proof that the two-minute drill is crucial to winning games. There have been 22 games through the first two weeks of the season decided by seven points or fewer -- a new record, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Those things are real,” Arians said. “You need to coach that way.”