2:39 AM EST, December 18, 2013
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - INSIDE SLANT
The Arizona Cardinals' odds of winning in Seattle this Sunday weren't great to begin. Now, they have three key players with significant injuries.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion against the Titans last week. Initial tests have been positive but the Cardinals won't know until late in the week on his status. Safety Rashad Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain and likely won't play on Sunday. The Cardinals had already lost safety Tyrann Mathieu to a knee injury the week before.
Against the Titans, rookie Tony Jefferson took over when Johnson was hurt. Curtis Taylor, recently promoted from the practice squad, is also on the roster. And cornerback Javier Arenas has played some safety.
Quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a sprained left ankle against the Titans but continued to play. It could limit him in practice. So the injuries to Fitzgerald and Johnson are the most significant.
"I'm concerned that we lost both our safeties in the last two weeks," coach Bruce Arians said. "We're down to a rookie, but it's Week 15 or 16, whatever the heck it is, he's not really a rookie anymore. Curtis (Taylor) hasn't played any, so if he's out there, I'll be a little worried because of the dropoff from Tyrann (Mathieu) and Rashad (Johnson). Rashad had a great game."
Jefferson played well in his brief time last week, too. He is a solid blitzer and it was his pressure in overtime that forced quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw a bad pass that was intercepted.
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - NOTES, QUOTES
--Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said Monday he was feeling better one day after suffering a concussion in the team's overtime win over the Tennessee Titans.
The concussion occurred during an onside kick in the fourth quarter of the game.
Talking to Westwood One's Jim Gray, Fitzgerald was asked what he remembers about the play.
Fitzgerald said, "You know, I was watching the football and the next thing I know I was being helped up by my trainer ... so I was a little out of it, equilibrium was lost a bit, but our training staff did an unbelievable job. (Trainer) Tom Reed and Dr. (Wayne) Kuhl, and our team staff put me through a gamut of testing and felt that it was in my best interests not to come back into the game. And I appreciate those guys looking out for my best interests because I really wanted to go back in."
After doing baseline tests Monday, Fitzgerald said he hopes to be able to be cleared to play this week.
He said, "I went in and saw an independent neurologist and he put me through a screening test -- a baseline test -- that I took in the springtime, and they wanted to see if my scores were on the same level as my scores when I was fully functioning in the offseason. And those tests came back positive; I was right where I needed to be. Tomorrow, I will see another neurologist to get another independent look and at that point it's just about how I feel. But right now, I'm feeling good. I'm going to get some rest today, get some rest tomorrow and get back to work for a big game against Seattle next week."
Fitzgerald said he understands the importance of doing what is called for the league.
"I don't think I'm any different than most guys," he said. You look at guys and the injuries that they sustain and you always think, 'that's not going to be me,' but the unfortunate part of our business is it's tough. Everybody gets it eventually and I'm going to deal with it, go through protocol, follow the team's guidelines, follow the league guidelines and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that I am recovering at a fast rate so I can be out there with my team come Sunday."
--The Cardinals will finish 11-5 if they win their last two games. That would be the most wins in their history in Arizona and their highest total since 1975. They also could finish out of the playoffs even with 11 victories.
"It'll be really weird," Arians said. "It'll be the first time for me. I'm used to winning the division at 11-5. But it's a great division and the NFC is playing extremely well this year."
--With 71 rushing yards and 87 receiving yards, rookie running back Andre Ellington became the first Cardinals player to lead the team in both categories since Marcel Shipp did it against the Rams in 2002.
--The Cardinals have 28 takeaways. That ranks fourth behind the Chiefs (35), Seattle (33) and Tampa Bay (29).
NFL Team Report - Arizona Cardinals - NOTES, QUOTES
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Carson Palmer has completed 68.9 percent of his passes in the last seven games. The Cardinals are 7-1 in those games.
--CB Antoine Cason returned an interception for a touchdown. It's the fourth time the Cardinals have done that this season.
--CB Antoine Cason's playing time increased because of the injury to Tyrann Mathieu. Cason played in 29 plays in the first 12 games. He had 17 snaps against the Rams two weeks ago and 69 last week against the Titans.
--CB Jerraud Powers starts in the base defense and now moves to nickel in passing situations. Antoine Cason takes Powers' spot in that scheme.
--RB Andre Ellington left the Titans game in the fourth quarter with a thigh bruise, but he is expected to play in Seattle.
REPOIRT CARD VS. TITANS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Carson Palmer was productive, completing 10 of 30 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. He did not have an interception and he was sacked twice.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- The offensive line did a solid job and Rashard Mendenhall made nice runs late in the game. The Cardinals gained 145 yards on 36 carries.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Two interceptions saved this from being a failing grade. Ryan Fitzpatrick had great time to throw and he passed for 402 yards and four touchdowns. It was the worst performance of the year for the defense.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Chris Johnson was held to 40 yards on 13 carries. The Cardinals continue to be very good against the run.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Jay Feely made two field goals, including the game-winner. But the Cardinals failed to recover an onside kick. Punter Dave Zastudil was solid with a 43.5 net average.
COACHING: B -- Arians has been great at calling plays and he's yet to make a mistake in managing the game. The offense has shown steady improvement and the Cardinals played well until late against the Titans.
--The list of winning seasons for the Arizona Cardinals is a short one, but they added to it Sunday in perhaps the wildest, weirdest fashion possible.
After blowing a 17-point lead with just over three minutes left in regulation, Arizona stayed alive for an NFC wild-card playoff berth when placekicker Jay Feely connected on a 41-yard field goal with 10:18 left in overtime. The kick gave the Cardinals a 37-34 win over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.
In securing just their fourth winning season since moving from St. Louis before the 1988 season, the Cardinals (9-5) remained a game behind the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card race heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
"It's a great, great feeling," said Arizona running back Andre Ellington, who gained 71 yards on 10 carries. "We have nowhere to go but up as a team. Now we just have to put this one away and get ready for next week."
Arizona's exhausted defense, which was on the field for 18 of 19 plays dating back to regulation's end, came up with a clutch interception. Cornerback Antoine Cason notched his second pick of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, making the catch at the Cardinals 30-yard line and returning it 16 yards.
Following two first downs, including a 15-yard run by running back Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona turned it over to Feely. After a Tennessee timeout, Feely swung his right leg, and the Titans (5-9) were eliminated from AFC playoff contention.
Fitzpatrick blamed himself for the loss.
"I set the wrong protection," he said of his second interception. "The free man came around the end and hit me just as I threw the ball. That one's my fault."
It appeared Fitzpatrick, who completed 36 of 58 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns, would be the hero after leading Tennessee on its stunning comeback late in the fourth quarter.
With 3:12 left, he found wide receiver Michael Preston for a 10-yard scoring strike to cut the Cardinals' lead to 34-24. After forcing a three-and-out, the Titans drove down to the Arizona 6-yard line, and placekicker Rob Bironas hit a 24-yard field goal with 47 seconds left.
Tennessee defensive back Daimion Stafford recovered the onside kick at his team's 46 with 44 seconds remaining after Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was popped and lost the ball. Five plays later, Fitzpatrick found Preston on a slant route in front of cornerback Patrick Peterson for an 8-yard touchdown.
The play tied the score with 10 seconds to go. The fans who remained from a crowd listed at 69,143 went crazy.
The Titans won the coin toss to start overtime, and Fitzpatrick connected with wide receiver Nate Washington on a 33-yard pass on second down to the Cardinals' 43. However, Cason, a former San Diego Charger getting more playing time after rookie Tyrann Mathieu suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, flipped the script on what appeared to be a devastating defeat.
"Someone had to make a play," Cason said. "That's all we told each other in the huddle. That gave us momentum and a lot of confidence, especially on the offensive side of the ball."
Arizona grabbed a 20-17 lead with 2:14 left in the third quarter when quarterback Carson Palmer, who hit on 20 of 30 passes for 231 yards, found tight end Jake Ballard for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Mendenhall's second 1-yard scoring run of the day increased the advantage to 27-14 with 6:50 left in regulation. Cason tacked on a 20-yard touchdown on an interception return with 6:13 left in regulation to make it 34-17 and apparently wrap things up.
Instead, Tennessee nearly completed an epic comeback that turned into its sixth loss by eight points or fewer.
"It's the same story," Titans free safety Michael Griffin said. "Except for one time, we just can't get over the hump."
Tennessee wide receiver Kendall Wright finished with 12 receptions for 150 yards, both game-high totals.
--TE Rob Housler (groin) sat out and was replaced in the starting lineup by Jake Ballard.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Those are the drives where you dig deep. Those are the championship drives, the drives that you need to push to be a playoff team." -- Cornerback Antoine Cason on how the defense overcame fatigue in overtime.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
What we learned:
Running back Andre Ellington has become quite a weapon for the offense. The rookie from Clemson rushed 10 times for 71 yards and caught four passes for 87 yards. Ellington has the speed to break a big run, the moves to shake free from linebackers in pass coverage and surprising power between the tackles.
The loss of rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to a season-ending knee injury appeared to hurt the secondary Sunday. The Titans aren't known for their passing attack, but they piled up 402 yards and overcame a 34-17 deficit in just over three minutes of the fourth quarter. You can bet Seattle and San Francisco, Arizona's last two opponents, will take notice of this and try to exploit a weaker unit.
Copyright © 2013, Reuters