Cardinals jump on sloppy Brees, Saints as Hall wins debut

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Fifteen quarterbacks were selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Max Hall wasn't one of them.

Six months later, in his debut as an NFL starter, he beat the reigning Super Bowl champions -- with some luck and a lot of help from his defense.

The rookie from BYU, optimistically listed at 6-foot-1, survived some brutal hits to complete 17 of 27 passes for 168 yards, and the Arizona Cardinals upset the New Orleans Saints 30-20 on Sunday.

Hall threw an interception that led to an early Saints field goal. He also fumbled twice, but both turned out to be key plays for Arizona (3-2). The first was run 2 yards by Cardinals tackle Levi Brown for a touchdown. Guard Alan Faneca pounced on the other for a 10-yard gain.

It was an uneven performance, but there was no doubt the extremely confident and ultra-competitive Hall earned the respect of his team.

"I need to fix my mistakes," he said, "but I think those guys trust me and I think when they look at me they know we have a chance to win."

Cardinals linebackers Paris Lenon and Joey Porter used the same phrase to describe their new starting quarterback: "just a tough little guy."

Arizona's defense, awful in a 41-10 loss at San Diego a week earlier, "deserves all the credit" for the win, Hall said.

The Cardinals intercepted Drew Brees three times and converted two turnovers by the Saints (3-2) into touchdowns. He had been picked off just twice in the first four games.

Kerry Rhodes returned Ladell Betts' fumble 27 yards for a score and, with 10 seconds to play, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned an interception 28 yards for the clinching TD.

"We finally put a good effort together," Rhodes said. "It wasn't perfect, it wasn't pretty at times for us, but we played as complete a game as we've played so far."

New Orleans outgained the Cardinals 373-194, but couldn't overcome four turnovers.

Brees, who entered the game completing an NFL-best 74 percent of his passes with just two interceptions, threw for two touchdowns.

His 35-yard TD pass to Robert Meachem cut Arizona's lead to 23-20 with 1:49 to play. But Larry Fitzgerald, who caught seven passes for 93 yards, recovered the subsequent onside kick for Arizona.

New Orleans had one final shot, getting the ball at its 9 yard line with 24 seconds to play. But Rodgers-Cromartie picked off Brees' pass and weaved through would-be tacklers for the final score.

Even though they have been blown out at Atlanta and San Diego, the Cardinals enter their bye week alone atop the NFC West, which they've won the last two seasons. The difference this year is they are without Kurt Warner, who was in the broadcast booth as a color analyst for Fox.

Ken Whisenhunt called it one of the most satisfying victories in his three-plus seasons as Arizona coach. He sees better days ahead.

"We didn't run the ball as we have been today and that's because they tried to stop the run and make us beat them throwing the football," Whisenhunt said. "I'm not scared to do that with Max. We're going to be able to expand on our offense, do more things, as Max gets more comfortable with it, which is going to make it harder to defend us. So I see us evolving. I think today was just the tip of the iceberg."

New Orleans' red zone problems continued. The Saints made four trips there and managed just one touchdown. Twice they settled for field goals. Another time, John Carney missed a 29-yarder that would have given his team a 16-13 lead in the third quarter.

"It's kind of the story of the season thus far," Brees said. "That's been a disappointing thing."

Coach Sean Payton said there were "some things that are positive about how we played."

"But there were too many things that are going to keep us from winning games," he said. "We failed again in the red zone to be as efficient as we like. Turnovers, kick coverage units, even the penalties are disappointing. If we are going to expect different results we have to play better than today."

Hall's day didn't start out so well. LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 60 yards to the New Orleans 45, but Hall threw his second pass of the game toward Fitzgerald, who was double-covered. Jabari Greer intercepted and returned it 26 yards to the Arizona 47. Brees completed three straight completions to set up Carney's 31-yard field goal.

With New Orleans up 10-3, Ben Graham's punt was downed by Arizona's Michael Adams inside the Saints 1. One play later from the 2, Brees' short pass over the middle bounced off Betts' hands and was intercepted by Lenon.

The Saints held and on third-and-goal from the 1, Hall sprinted left and tried to score. He was stopped and fumbled, but Brown picked it up and took it into the end zone.

"All I knew was our crowd starting cheering," Hall said, "so I figured somebody picked it up on our side. It made it a little bit easier to get up."

Game notes
The Saints again were without their top two running backs, Reggie Bush (broken leg) and Pierre Thomas (sprained ankle). ... Missed field goals plagued the visitors in both Arizona home games this season. Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski missed a 32-yarder as the game ended and the Cardinals' escaped with a 24-23 victory. ... After taking several nasty hits, Hall limped off the field and sat out the final series of the first half. ... This season, New Orleans has just seven touchdowns in 19 red zone appearances.