Source: USA TODAY
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Every Arizona Cardinals offensive game plan for the remaining seven games this season should start with the same four words.
First, do no harm.
The defense and special teams are good enough to keep the Cardinals above .500, as long as they aren’t handicapped by an inordinate number of mistakes by the offense.
That point was hammered home — again — in a 27-24 victory over the Houston Texans at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
It took a defensive touchdown, a blocked field goal and just enough offensive competence for the Cardinals to pull off the victory.
“We are a tough, grind-it-out defensive team,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I think that is our M.O. We won a lot of games in the fourth quarter and hung around long enough to find ways to win games. I don’t know what everyone else thinks, but that is what we have been thinking in our locker room.”
While they aren’t winning pretty, or pulling huge upsets, the Cardinals are beating the teams they are supposed to.
That includes the Texans, who have lost seven consecutive games.
But with a productive offense, winning wouldn’t be so hard for the Cardinals (5-4). The last five minutes of Sunday’s game provided another example.
The Cardinals led 27-17 when running back Rashard Mendenhall was stripped of the ball by Houston defensive end J.J. Watt.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians didn’t agree with the call, saying afterward that he thought “the whistle or three whistles had blown before anything had ever come out, but it wasn’t that way.”
The Texans recovered and scored on third down when receiver Andre Johnson made a fabulous touchdown catch on a pass that cornerback Patrick Peterson had deflected.
It took a defensive stand in the final two minutes for the Cardinals to clinch the game.
“The offense made it a little interesting at the end of the ballgame,” Peterson said, “but it was a great team victory. We just want to continue stacking chips and see what they make later at the end of the season.”
Nothing about this football season has been, or will be, easy for the Cardinals. Nor will it be pretty. But does every game have to leave fans feeling like they just passed kidney stones?
That’s been part of the Cardinals M.O., too.
The afternoon started pleasantly enough for the 60,845 in attendance.
Outside linebacker John Abraham forced Texans quarterback Case Keenum to fumble on the first play, and outside linebacker Matt Shaughnessy returned it six yards for a touchdown that gave the Cardinals the lead.
To their credit, the Texans bounced back to score two touchdowns in the first half and appeared to ready to take a six-point lead when Texans kicker Randy Bullock lined up for a 40-yard attempt on the final play of the half.
But Justin Bethel screamed in off the right side and blocked it.
“There are very few guys that can do that,” Arians said.
At halftime, the Cardinals defensive players met and decided 17 points was enough for the Texans.
“I thought we stood up as a defense,” inside linebacker Daryl Washington said. “We told ourselves, 17 is the max. Let’s play nasty, let’s play dirty, in a good way.”
The Cardinals defense wasn’t perfect. Washington was beating himself up after the game for dropping an interception that he would have returned for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby should have had two interceptions in the first half.
“I’m so frustrated right now, bro,” Dansby said. “I’m so mad.”
The Texans did not gain a yard in the third quarter and had minus-6 yards of net passing. When Palmer hit receiver Andre Roberts with a 19-yard touchdown pass with 6:42 left, the Cardinals led by 10 points, and the game looked in hand.
Then the ball was pulled from Mendenhall’s hands, reminding everyone that nothing with the Cardinals this year is that simple.
“I know it hurt us, but I did everything I could,” Mendenhall said. “I had the ball in two hands, trying to get down. I don’t know if the whistle was blown or not, but it was a while in there.”
Optimists could find progress in the Cardinals’ offensive performance.
Tight end Rob Housler was a factor in the passing game and scored the first touchdown of his career. Running back Andre Ellington (11 carries, 55 yards) continues to produce, and Palmer had more touchdown passes (two) than interceptions (one).
The group also had three false starts, three turnovers and had to twice settle for short field goals.
“Everybody is excited and disappointed,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “Because, again, we’ve shown the offense we can be, and we just keep missing being the offense this defense and special teams deserve to have.”
Kent Somers covers the NFL for The Arizona Republic, a Gannett affiliate.