It could have cost the Arizona Cardinals a win over the Houston Texans Sunday, in fact it almost did.
With Arizona leading 27-17 and less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Rashard Mendenhall took a carry from his own five-yard line, was met up the middle by Houston’s defensive front four and promptly had the ball stripped from his hands by reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
The fumble led to a quick three-play drive capped off by an acrobatic five-yard touchdown catch by Andre Johnson, as the Texans closed the margin to within three points.
While the late-game scare eventually was swept aside in the aftermath of the Cardinals’ fifth victory of 2013, head coach Bruce Arians said it’s a play that should never have resulted in a turnover.
“He was trying to fall down,” Arians told Arizona Sports 620’s Bickley with Marotta. “He knows the unwritten rules of football that when you’re in that pile get down. And he was trying to get down, but they were holding him up. He was going backwards, holding with both hands on the ball, doing everything he’s coached to do. J.J. Watt rips it out of there late.
“You can’t see anything in the scrum, but I heard the whistle blow. The forward progress rule has been changed to stop all of that stuff.”
Although Mendenhall’s second fumble of the season instantly erased any sense of comfort Arizona had as it attempted to salt away a second consecutive win, Arians noted that the six-year pro still put together his finest hour of football in a Cardinals’ uniform.
“Rashard probably had his best game as a Cardinal yesterday other than that late fumble,” said Arians. “You know he was hitting the hole. He had one misread on a short third and one. But the nose did cross [the first down line]. I saw what he saw. But in that situation get it up and go ahead and get the one yard. He was going to get the home run out the back door.
“He’s been very solid in his pass protection, and he gives us a heck of a leader in that room of young players that you have to have. He’s a quality player.”
Mendenhall, who sat out the team’s last game against the Atlanta Falcons, finished with 42 yards on 13 carries, including a season-high 12-yard scamper in the third quarter.
A free agent acquisition, Mendenhall currently ranks second on the team in rushing with 323 yards on the ground.