Cardinals turn risks into biscuits in win over Washington

Dec 4, 2016, 8:35 PM | Updated: Dec 5, 2016, 11:16 am
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians greets Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden after an...

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians greets Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden after an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 31-23. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Since he was hired in January 2013, Bruce Arians has been fond of his catch phrase, “No risk-it, no biscuit.”

What it means, at its base, is that he’s willing to take chances when others might not.

Never has that style been more on display than in Sunday’s 31-23 over the Washington Redskins, when in the fourth quarter, while nursing a one-point lead and facing a fourth-and-inches from their own 34, Arians left his offense on the field to try and pick up the first.

A 14-yard David Johnson run later, the Cardinals were in business.

“I was shocked,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I was getting ready to jog off of the field. But, obviously a great call. Phenomenal execution and Dave did the rest.”

That play worked, but Arians was not done.

With the scoreboard on their side and the clock now their ally, the Cardinals threw three straight passes after the big Johnson run. A defensive hold on the third attempt gave Arizona another first down at the Washington 42, and after a Johnson run went nowhere, Palmer went play-action and threw deep to receiver J.J. Nelson.

The result was a touchdown.

Biscuit, indeed.

“If our left side and tight ends can’t get a yard with the way we’re running the ball, we didn’t deserve to win the game anyway,” Arians said of the decision to go for it on fourth down.

Fair enough, but what about the deep ball to Nelson?

“We knew they were going to be playing the run at that point,” the coach said while noting it was nice to have good enough protection to get the throw off.

The touchdown to Nelson, while exciting and fruitful, did have one drawback. It gave the ball back to Washington down one score with plenty of time on the clock.

While some could question the strategy in that, the truth is, the Cardinals stuck to their identity in being bold.

Also, as they put it, why not play like that?

“We are desperate for a win,” Palmer said. “What’s the point of playing safe? That’s [Arians’] motto. It paid off for us today.”

Or, as receiver Larry Fitzgerald put it, Arians made some gutsy calls because, “what do we have to lose at this point?”

The Cardinals, who entered the game 4-6-1, could not afford to drop this one if they had any hope of making it to the postseason. So, what did they have to lose? A lot, actually.

“Yeah, the 4th-and-1 I was kind of with Coach on that one — go for it, just try to put the nail in the coffin now,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “But that 2nd-and-10 or 2nd-and-8 or something like that, to see him heave it deep, I was like, ‘Woah, here we go, here we go, touchdown.’ So I’m definitely happy that J.J. brought it in — hell of a catch.”

Therein lies the beauty of Arians’ philosophy. It works, often times, because players execute properly or even make great plays. Nelson said the team having confidence in him for such a big moment means a lot, and the coach calling plays the way he does sends a similar message to the rest of the team.

“You put it on our shoulders and it’s time for us to answer the call,” offensive tackle D.J. Humphries said. “When it’s time, we’ve got to do it.”

“It says a lot,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “That’s B.A.’s style. He’s been like that since he’s been here. I have a lot of love for him, a lot of respect for him. That’s what it took for us to win.

“Our backs are against the wall. We have nothing to lose. This is our last opportunity. We’re going to fight every minute. We’re going to go out there and try to make it happen.”

Being aggressive, as Arians so often is, seems to be more about taking the initiative — not waiting for things to happen to or for the Cardinals. If they have a chance to make a play to win the game, they go for it.

If that means going for it on fourth down inside their territory or throwing a deep ball when milking the clock would seem like the prudent thing to do, so be it.

“Shoot, we’re trying to win, we’re trying to get into it, so it’s going to take some risks some times,” safety Tony Jefferson said.

This time, the risks turned into reward. Or, rather, biscuits. They don’t always, and that’s the reality of calling plays in the NFL. They are fun to call when they work.

“They are,” Arians said, “and when they don’t, you’re in here answering questions of, ‘Why the hell did you do it?'”

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