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Cardinals-Lions: What we learned

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GLENDALE, Ariz. - With the game on the line Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals would have loved to dial up a series of plays for Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. That wasn't one of Carson Palmer's available options.

With Fitzgerald idled by a hamstring injury that nagged him all week, Palmer looked at all the fresh young faces in the Cardinals' huddle. He could have just rolled his eyes and begged for help from above.

"You wouldn't know it was the game-winning drive," Palmer said. "You wouldn't know we were down by two with probably our last chance to touch the ball in the game.

"But there weren't any wide eyes or scared looks. Everybody just talked about doing their job and trying to score."

And the Cardinals did, going 61 yards on seven plays and getting a huge pass-interference penalty to go their way before running back Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 1-yard touchdown run that gave them a 25-21 victory over the Lions at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The win gave Bruce Arians his first victory as the Cardinals' head coach and it was also the first win for Palmer and Mendenhall in their Arizona home debuts.

"It's always special. You never know when you're going to get it," Arians said. "We're going on a really tough road trip and I'm happy we got it at home. We have to win at home. Scratch a few out on the road and you'll be in the playoffs."

What the Cardinals said

"It's something we've talked about a lot. Those DBs play the receiver, they don't play the ball. When we have opportunities and we're staring at the receiver, they're going to faceguard and Andre did a great job of setting that up, going for the ball. We knew that play was going to do that."

-- Quarterback Carson Palmer on the pass-interference penalty against Bill Bentley, who ran into Andre Roberts to set up Arizona's go-ahead touchdown.

What the Lions said:

"As an offense we didn't move the ball as well as we wanted to in the second half. It seemed like in the first half, we pretty much took what we wanted. Maybe I have to give them credit to the adjustments they made. We left some stuff out there. We didn't take advantage of certain plays." - Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson.

What we learned Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:

1. If Larry Fitzgerald isn't 100 percent, this team can still love the ball. They proved that when it mattered most, getting a 16-yard run from rookie running back Andre Ellington, a big 11-yard catch from second-year receiver Michael Floyd and a smart play by Andre Roberts to bait a Detroit cornerback into a costly pass-interference penalty. Kerry Taylor stepped in for Fitzgerald and caught three passes for 40 yards despite being on the practice squad a day earlier. "That's what being a team is about," said Fitzgerald, "everybody doing their part."

2. The pass rush still needs improvement. The Cardinals finally got their first sack of the season, courtesy of defensive end Calais Campbell, but that was the only one they got on Sunday. They also were credited with only two quarterback hurries on Matthew Stafford, which is not good enough when you have an interior rusher like Darnell Dockett, a 6-foot-8 end like Campbell, and a pure outside pass rusher in veteran John Abraham, the NFL's active sack leader with 122. "That offense is going to make plays," Campbell said, "but we did what we had to do. When you hold someone to 14 points on offense, that's a win."

3. The Detroit offense becomes far less dynamic when running back Reggie Bush is not involved. Bush took a knee to the helmet late in the first half and although he briefly came back later, he wasn't the multi-threat he was out of the backfield like he was last week against the Vikings. "We have to make plays. This is football. It's 100 per4cent injury rate in this league," Bush said. "Guys are going to get injured. We just have to do a better job of adjusting to it."

4. The Lions still take far too many penalties, as they were whistled eight times for 101 yards. Coach Jim Schwartz doesn't seem too concerned, however. "I think you have to look at the penalties," he said. "Those are guys out there trying. In our situation, if there were a bunch of unsportsmanlike, after-the-whistle plays, false starts, something like that, obviously there's stuff that you can do that way. But in the game, when you talk about pass interference, holding and anything else, it's generally just a player having either bad technique or being in a bad situation."
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