Six-and-2 sounds a heck of a lot better than 5-3.
The Arizona Cardinals handled their business, winning in Cleveland, 34-20, ahead of the bye week.
Of course, they didn’t make it easy on themselves, which has been a repeated occurrence of late. The Cardinals jumped ahead, 7-0, but then watched as the Browns (2-6) scored 20 straight points. Arizona’s 13-point hole was their largest deficit of the season.
That’s when the Cardinals flipped the script.
Carson Palmer threw three touchdowns and Chandler Catanzaro kicked two field goals to lead the Cardinals on a 27-0 run.
Palmer finished with four scores and 374 yards, completing 23-of-38 pass attempts.
Troy Niklas caught two touchdowns, the first two of his career, while Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald accounted for one apiece.
Floyd was the team’s leading receiver with four catches for 106 yards.
The passing game was once again set up by an effective rushing attack, specifically Chris Johnson. He carried the ball a season-high 30 times for 109 yards, the fourth time he’s topped the century mark this season.
The Cardinals won their second straight to start a second consecutive season 6-2.
– On the Cardinals opening possession, Palmer completed all five of his pass attempts for 71 yards. He ended the drive with an 11-yard touchdown throw to Niklas, the first career score for the second-year tight end and the 17th tossed this season by Palmer, establishing a franchise record for touchdown passes in the first eight games of a season. The Cardinals were a perfect three-for-three on third down, taking a 7-0 lead at 7:59 of the first quarter.
– As part of that above scoring drive, Fitzgerald caught passes for nine yards and seven yards. The former extended his franchise record and longest active streak in the NFL of at least one reception to 171 straight games. The latter moved him past Irving Fryar and into 17th place on the league’s all-time receiving yardage list.
– One of the few first-half bright spots for the Cardinals was rookie receiver J.J. Nelson. He caught his first NFL pass, a 38-yard, one-handed grab on the opening drive of the game. Later in the second quarter, he caught two more balls for 20 and 12 yards, respectively. Nelson had three receptions — including a pair on third down — for a team-leading 70 yards on four targets through the first two quarters.
– The third time apparently was the charm. On the Cardinals’ first possession of the second half, Palmer went deep and connected with Floyd for a 60-yard touchdown that pulled Arizona to within 20-17 at 11:46 of the third quarter. Floyd, who beat Joe Haden on the play, has 16 career touchdown catches, 10 of which have covered at least 20 yards. Palmer had missed with a deep ball to Floyd in the first and Fitzgerald in the second quarter.
– Set up by a 40-yard punt return by Patrick Peterson and a first-down 39-yard completion to Jaron Brown, the Cardinals made it two touchdowns on two possessions to begin the second half. Niklas caught a one-yard pass, his second score of the game, on third-and-goal to give the Cardinals the lead, 24-20, at 7:35 of the third quarter. The last Cardinals tight end with two touchdowns in a game was Leonard Pope on Nov. 11, 2007 against Detroit.
– With his seven yard fourth-quarter run — three plays before a Chandler Catanzaro 35-yard field goal to push the Cardinals lead to 34-20 with 2:16 to play — Chris Johnson topped 100 yards rushing for the second time in as many weeks and the fourth time this season. Edgerrin James in 2006 was the last Cardinals running back to do the former, while Stump Mitchell in 1985 last accomplished the latter for the Cardinals.
– For as good as Chris Johnson has been this season, his first-quarter fumble led directly to the Browns first points of the game. It was former Cardinal Karlos Dansby who forced the fumble after Johnson’s 13-yard run. The football was returned to the Cardinals 9-yard line, where on third-and-goal McCown found Brian Hartline for a 10-yard score, beating Tyrann Mathieu on the play, which tied the game at 7 at 2:41 of the first quarter.
– Mismatches were the name of the game during the Browns second scoring drive. First, Duke Johnson beat Kevin Minter — Rashad Johnson took a poor angle and missed a tackle, as well — for a 52-yard reception. Then, three plays later, on third-and-goal, Gary Barnidge caught a three-yard touchdown, using his 6-6 frame to out-jump Tony Jefferson for the football. The play gave Cleveland its first lead, 14-7, at 14:48 of the second quarter.
– Apparently Hartline enjoys playing against the Cardinals. Three years after a 12-catch, 253-yard career-best performance while a member of the Dolphins in a game in Arizona, Hartline burned the Cardinals for two first-half touchdowns, the second of which gave the Browns a 20-7 lead (PAT missed) at 4:56 of the second quarter. The two-yard catch came on third-and-goal and kept the Browns perfect inside the red zone, three-for-three.
– Down 13 and driving for a late second-quarter score, the Cardinals turned the ball over. Fitzgerald, after a 15-yard reception, coughed up the football inside the red zone. K’Waun Williams both forced and recovered the fumble. Fortunately, the defense held. By the way, that was Fitzgerald’s second lost fumble of the season.
– More Cardinals’ issues hanging onto the football in the third quarter. The team turned it over two more times with Palmer getting intercepted and Chris Johnson fumbling for the second time. Palmer was picked off by Tashaun Gipson on a pass intended for Fitzgerald, though it appeared Fitzgerald was held on the play. The good news, again, is that the defense held after both turnovers and only allowed one score after four offensive giveaways.
STAT OF THE GAME
13: The deficit overcome by the Cardinals, their largest rally of the season
HE SAID IT
“We played better,” Fitzgerald explained to Paul Calvisi on the field after the game. “We played like crap in the first half. We deserved to be down. But Coach (Bruce Arians) challenged us in the locker room, offensively (and) defensively to come out there (in the second half) and play better; and we played better.”
– Both teams in the first half were 6-for-8 on third down with each of the Browns’ three scores coming on third down.
– Dwight Freeney’s third-quarter sack was his second in as many weeks and the 113.5 of his career, good for 19th all-time.
– Rashad Johnson’s fourth-quarter interception was his fourth and the team’s 13th of the season; 16 takeaways overall.
– Floyd topped 100 receiving yards for the first time this season and seventh time in his career.
– Palmer passed for more than 300 yards for the fifth time this season and 12th time in 30 games as a Cardinal.
– Drew Butler punted twice, once in the first and again in the second quarter, with each traveling 50 yards.
– Among the Cardinals inactives were injured starters tight end Darren Fells (shoulder) and linebacker Alex Okafor (calf).
Some much deserved rest.
The Cardinals enter their bye week eight games into the season, a perfect time to not only heal up but also evaluate the first half.
Arians has decided to give his coaches and players four days off, starting Thursday. They’ll then reconvene to prepare for a game at Seattle on Nov. 15. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning four hours earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
It’s the second straight Sunday night matchup between the two teams.
Last season, the Cardinals entered their meeting with the Seahawks 11-3 and knowing a win would clinch the NFC West Division title. However, because of an injury to Drew Stanton the week before, third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley got the start and was ineffective in a 35-6 loss, the Cardinals’ lone home defeat of the year.
Russell Wilson accounted for 427 total yards and three touchdowns, while Marshawn Lynch rushed for 113 yards and two scores. His 79-yard touchdown run put the exclamation point on a 21-point fourth quarter.
Overall, the Seahawks have won four of the past five matchups, though the Cardinals did win in Seattle once upon a time, 17-10 in 2013, which snapped a three-game losing streak in the Emerald City.
This will be the 33rd all-time meeting — each team has won 16 times — in a series that dates back to 1976.