TEMPE, Ariz. - The flip side of rookie Cam Newton's record performance is the bad afternoon for the Arizona Cardinals' defense.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt criticized that defense, particularly the secondary, on Monday, implying that Cardinals' errors, both in technique mistakes and in improper positioning, helped Newton amass 422 yards passing, tied for the most by a rookie in any game and a record for a rookie in a season opener.
But, Whisenhunt added, ``It's much easier to correct your mistakes after a win.''
The Cardinals did hold off the Carolina Panthers 28-21 on Sunday, rallying with two fourth-quarter touchdowns- Kevin Kolb's 70-yard pass to Early Doucet and rookie Patrick Peterson's 89-yard punt return. Newton drove the Panthers to the Arizona 11-yard line in the final minutes, but threw four incompletions. He got an extra play because of an offside penalty, and threw over the middle to Mike Goodson, who was stopped by linebacker Paris Lenon at the 2-yard line, a yard shy of a first down.
``We got out with an ugly victory,'' Kolb said. ``That's the key. We still won the game. Can you imagine if we had lost that game in the final seconds some way, we'd be sick.''
Kolb, in his Arizona debut, also had a 48-yard TD pass to tight end Jeff King. But the Cardinals were inside the Carolina 6 twice and came up empty.
``Look, it's got to be our point of emphasis to clean up those details,'' Kolb told reporters at his locker after viewing the tape of the game on Monday. ``especially when they're that critical, the ones we had down there in the red zone, some of the plays on defense, everybody. The good thing is we have a good veteran group of guys that know that.''
The Cardinals' best defensive performer on Sunday, inside linebacker Daryl Washington, has a calf injury and an MRI is planned. He had one interception and another pick was nullified by penalty.
Both of the Cardinals' starting cornerbacks were playing in their first NFL game, the rookie Peterson and A.J. Jefferson, a second-year pro who spent last season on Arizona's practice squad.
``It's a learning curve for me and A.J.,'' Peterson said. ``We were in some bad positions technical wise. At some time and place, we weren't playing within the scheme of the defense, not knowing when the ball's coming out hot. That's going to come with both of being in our first year starting, but that's one game under our belt and we're definitely going to learn from it.''
Whisenhunt said Patrick, the fifth overall pick in the draft, showed the effects of not having offseason training because of the NFL lockout.
``The thing I like about Patrick is that he is aware of what he is seeing on the field,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He can communicate it when he comes to the sideline and I think, with that being said, that means some of the technique errors that he made yesterday we will be able to clean up, get his eyes right so he's not looking at the wrong thing, which will certainly help him be in the right position. But I'm not worried about that. I think he will continue to grow and get better.''
Whisenhunt said Jefferson ``looked like a young player out there making his first NFL start.''
``A lot of the things he had been working on being consistent in training camp, which we talked about before being the big thing I wanted to see from him, he struggled with that a little bit yesterday,'' the coach said, ``but that was his first game. I'm not down on A.J. by any stretch of the imagination. He's a talented young player and he'll continue to get better.''
The team's veteran safeties, Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, also struggled at times.
Wilson didn't play at all in the preseason after tearing a biceps tendon.
``It looked like he hadn't played in a while,'' Whisenhunt said. ``There were a number of things where we weren't playing them correctly. I'm not pointing a finger at Adrian, but he was definitely part of that. There were a lot of those guys, especially in the back end, that were not playing our coverages the correct way or not making the correct adjustments. Part of it is having young guys outside and part of it is just not getting it done well enough. That's what we have to work on. Like I said, I'd much rather work on it after a win.''
Peterson, whose personality oozes confidence, almost chose to make a fair catch of the punt that he returned 89 yards, the second-longest in Cardinals history.
``I took a chance. I definitely took a chance,'' he said. ``I saw everybody slowing down in my peripheral vision. I was like, `We need a play, so to heck with it.'''
Then he laughed.