Defense steps up and finishes off win for Cardinals

Oct 26, 2015, 11:14 PM
Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney (54) salutes the fans with teammate Markus Golden (44) ...

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Dwight Freeney (54) salutes the fans with teammate Markus Golden (44) after his sack in Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — For much of the past week, the talk around the Arizona Cardinals’ Tempe training facility centered around the team’s ability — or inability, really — to finish games.

In both of the team’s losses, to the St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cardinals had the ball late with a chance to take the lead and probably pull out a victory.

Why did they come up short? Because for all the good the Cardinals may have done earlier in those games, when they needed one last drive or one more play, they did not come through.

They couldn’t finish.

Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens they did finish, albeit not without some drama.

The Ravens did, after all, reach Arizona’s nine before Tony Jefferson sealed the deal with an interception in the end zone on a ball intended for Ravens tight end Crockett Gilmore.

“Dream come true,” Jefferson said of coming up big with the pick on national TV. “Monday Night, everybody is watching, I can’t even explain it, but I feel good right now.”

Jefferson feels good. The defense might feel relieved. Either way, that side of the ball played the role of closer in the 26-18 win.

“Honestly, there’s nothing like going out there and getting that last stop as a defense,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “And not only getting the last stop here tonight, letting the world see. I thought that was a really, really, really — we stuck a fork in the ground and let those guys know it’s going to be tough for you.”

Peterson said defensive coordinator James Bettcher made some good calls and felt like the Ravens may have gotten lucky on a few of the plays that contributed to their too-close-for-comfort drive at the end, but otherwise it ended the way he likes to see a game come to a close.

“But at the same time, Coach always tells us make sure we defend every blade of grass, and we did that today and we came out with a W,” Peterson said.

In a perfect world, the Cardinals would not have needed Jefferson to make an interception in the end zone. In fact, it would have been ideal for the team’s offense to pick up one more first down, allowing them run out the clock that way.

But throughout the course of the season there will be times where the defense needs to come up big, and though it wasn’t pretty, Arizona’s did.

“It was nice,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “It was a very good combination because the offense killed a lot of clock and took all of their timeouts. Didn’t finish the job; got a good punt, good protection on the last one and the defense held up.”

Just the way the players on that side of the ball prefer it, actually.

“Only one thing I would love more is a complete blowout and then we can just go after the quarterback the whole entire game,” linebacker Dwight Freeney said. “But other than that, that’s my best scenario, when it comes down to us to stop them.”

Of course, it’s easy to feel that way when things work out. Had the Ravens marched all the way down the field and scored a touchdown, converted the two-point conversion and sent the game into overtime, the feeling would be a little different.

But it won’t always be easy. It won’t always be pretty. The important thing is getting the job done, no matter how it happens.

And in that regard, the Cardinals’ defense — which allowed just 108 yards of offense in the second half — put together a masterpiece.

As if there was ever any doubt.

“We’ve seen them do it so many times,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It’s expected. Obviously, there are some nerves because this is the NFL and crazy things happen, but time and time again, our defense gets a stop just like they did.”

Just like they did? Maybe not exactly, but that’s neither here nor there. Because as the dust settles on Monday’s game, what matters is the offense got the lead, the defense made it hold up, and the Cardinals got a win.

Even if it came down to the very end.

“Thank God,” linebacker Kevin Minter said of his reaction when Jefferson came down with the final interception. “Because it’s still (Joe) Flacco, (Justin) Forsett and Steve Smith. I was like, ‘Yes, let’s get the hell up out of here.'”

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