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Big Red Recap: Cardinals open up offense to beat Saints in Week 1

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The curtain dropped on the 2015 season with a successful opening act by the Arizona Cardinals, who got a late fourth-quarter score to seal a 31-19 victory in front of a sold-out crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Carson Palmer passed for 307 yards and three touchdowns, the third of which was a 55 yard catch-and-run by rookie David Johnson, clinching the Cardinals (1-0) sixth straight home-opening win.

Palmer was 19-of-32, completing passes to eight different receivers, led by Larry Fitzgerald’s six catches for 87 yards.

John Brown and Darren Fells caught touchdowns, as well.

The win, however, may have come at a cost as running back Andre Ellington hurt his right knee in the fourth quarter and needed to be carted back to the locker room.

Before the injury, Ellington rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown, part of a ground attack that totaled 120 yards on 25 attempts for a 4.8 yard average.

Defensively, the Cardinals held the Saints out of the end zone in the second half.

Alex Okafor recorded two sacks, while Rashad Johnson had the one and only takeaway with a third-quarter interception.

The Cardinals improved to 9-1 overall in home openers at University of Phoenix Stadium

THE GOOD

– An excellent opening possession to the 2015 season for the Cardinals offense as they marched 80 yards on nine plays with John Brown hauling in a 10-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead at 9:46 of the first quarter. Brown caught three passes for 32 yards on the drive that saw Palmer complete five of his six attempts for 62 yards and a score.

– Assists to Jermaine Gresham and A.Q. Shipley on the Cardinals second scoring drive. First, Gresham took out two defenders to spring Fells loose for a 48-yard catch-and-run. Then, on 1st-and-goal at the one, Shipley, the backup center, lined up as a fullback to open up a lane for Ellington to make it 14-3 at the 11:03 mark of the second quarter.

– Improving the run game became a top priority in the offseason for the Cardinals, who last season ranked 32nd out of 32 teams averaging 3.3 yards per rush. That average read 5.2 yards at the half with Ellington, Palmer and Chris Johnson combining for 52 yards on 10 attempts. Ellington alone carried the ball five times for 30 yards.

– The timing couldn’t have been better for Fells to record his first NFL score in the regular season. His 17-yard touchdown catch gave the Cardinals a 24-16 lead with 9:48 to play. Fells’ 82 yards receiving was the most by an Arizona tight end since Rob Awalt covered 105 yards against Dallas on Nov. 12, 1989.

– While the Cardinals offense was a perfect three-for-three scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, their red-zone defense held New Orleans to one touchdown on four trips inside the 20-yard line.

THE BAD

– The Saints’ screen game hurt the Cardinals early. Mark Ingram burned the defense for 24 yards in the first quarter, while Khiry Robinson gained 22 yards in the second quarter — that play helped New Orleans score its first touchdown, a 12-yard pass from Drew Brees to Brandon Coleman to make it 14-10 at 5:14 of the second quarter.

– Of course that score should never have happened. The defense had forced the Saints off the field on third down but on the ensuing punt, the Cardinals lined up with 12 men on the field. The 5-yard penalty gave New Orleans a first down, keeping the drive alive. Six plays later came the Coleman touchdown after a missed tackle by Tyrann Mathieu.

– Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Twice, Palmer was nearly picked off in the first half. Brandon Browner and Cameron Jordan each had the ball in their hands but were unable to complete the catch. Browner also had a late pass defensed as the Cardinals took a couple of end zone shots prior to halftime.

– Though it ultimately didn’t cost the Cardinals, Ellington coughed up the football in the third quarter, the team’s first turnover of the season. Hau’oli Kikaha caused the fumble, which was recovered by Delvin Breaux, as Ellington was straining for an extra yard or two after the initial contact.

STAT OF THE GAME

3: The number of touchdown passes by Palmer, who has now recorded multiple-TD passes in six of his last seven starts and 14 of last 18.

HE SAID IT

“I don’t think they saw me coming out of the backfield,” David Johnson said of his game-clinching score. “All I had to do was catch it and run. We surprised them with that (play). It was an amazing feeling.”

NOTED

– With his first-quarter five-yard catch, Fitzgerald extended both the team record and longest active streak in the NFL with at least one reception to 164 straight games.

– With his second-quarter 48-yard throw to Fells, Palmer moved ahead of Jim Kelly into 21st place on NFL’s all-time passing yardage list.

– The 43-yard kick return by David Johnson in the second quarter matched the Cardinals longest of 2014.

– The Cardinals improved to 17-4 against teams outside the division under Arians, including an 11-0 record at home.

– The seven Cardinals’ inactives included quarterback Matt Barkley, wide receiver Brittan Golden, linebacker Shaq Riddick, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, guard Mike Iupati, tight end Joseph Fauria and nose tackle Xavier Williams.

UP NEXT

The Cardinals will hit the road in Week 2.

They travel to Chicago, their originial home, to tackle the Bears on Sunday, Sept. 20. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 a.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Cardinals have lost six of the past eight matchups, including most recently three years ago at home, 28-13. However, their last visit to Soldier Field was a victory, 41-21 thanks to five Kurt Warner touchdown passes, on Nov. 8, 2009.

This will be the 90 all-time meeting between the only two founding members remaining in the NFL.

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