Cardinals finding ways to win tight games
(Updates. With AP Photos.)
By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' late run last season wasn't met with much enthusiasm. A team long out of the playoff picture winning a few games isn't exactly an attention grabber.
An eke-it-out win over Seattle in this season's opener didn't do much to sway opinions and even a road win over New England was viewed as more of a slipup by the Patriots than evidence of Arizona's rise to prominence.
The perception of the Cardinals started to change when they beat up Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles last week, and was solidified with their comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Face it, this is no longer a team on a good run. The Cardinals are a good team.
"We are a good team," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Monday. "We play well together and our guys make plays."
OK, so maybe he's a little biased. But it's hard to downplay what Arizona has accomplished since opening last season 1-6.
The Cardinals closed out last season by winning seven of nine games, which only allowed them to finish at .500.
The confidence of winning games, particularly close ones, carried over this season and Arizona, despite some dire predictions, has been one of the NFL's best teams through the first month of the season.
Riding a big-play defense and a knack for staying calm in tight spots, the Cardinals (4-0) are one of three undefeated teams -- along with Houston and Atlanta -- and are off to their best start since opening the 1974 season with seven straight wins.
Arizona has won 11 of its past 13 games, the best record in the NFL over that span, and eight straight home games, second-longest in history to the nine-game streak in 1925.
"There's no question chemistry is a big part of it," Whisenhunt said. "We started to develop that last year over that stretch and you could see it in training camp and the offseason. You never know what that's going to mean, but in some tough situations this year you've seen that come out. You've seen some guys believe in each other, work hard and to me that's what a team is all about."
Part of what has made the Cardinals a success story is their ability to shake off disappointment.
They did it last season by going on a run after losing six straight games and have been consistent with the short-memory approach this season, game to game, even play to play.
Sunday was a good example.
Arizona didn't play particularly well, giving up big plays on defense while the offense sputtered for most of the game.
The Cardinals came up with the key plays when they needed to, forcing a fumble to set up the tying touchdown in the closing seconds and another in overtime to set up Jay Feely's 46-yard field goal for the 24-21 win.
It may not have been pretty, but it's a win and that's all that matters in the NFL.
"We didn't play our best. We know that," said Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes, who set up Feely's winning kick with an interception after Paris Lenon forced Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill into a wobbly throw with a big hit. "We were able to fight, still claw and have a chance to win at the end. That's what happened. We pulled it out."
Winning close games has become second nature to the Cardinals.
Last season, Arizona became the first NFL team to win four overtime games in a season and all eight of its wins were by seven points or less.
The Cardinals have kept up their winning-the-close-game ways this season.
Arizona withstood four plays inside its 6-yard line in the closing seconds to beat Seattle 20-16 in the season opener. It overcame Ryan Williams' late fumble against New England the next week, leaving with a 20-18 win when Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski hooked a 42-yard field goal wide left with 6 seconds left.
And, despite sputtering for big chunks of the game against Miami, the Cardinals pulled out another tight victory when Kevin Kolb hit Andre Roberts on a 15-yard touchdown on a fourth down with 22 seconds left in regulation and Feely hit his 18th consecutive field goal in overtime.
Arizona has won seven straight home overtime games stretching to 2007, the longest streak in league history.
"I don't know what it is with us that we have to take it to the last moment of the game, but we're winning and that's all that matters," Roberts said.
Finding ways to win -- that's exactly what good teams do.
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Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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