After late collapse, Cardinals top Titans in OT

Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The list of winning seasons for the Arizona Cardinals is a short one, but they added to it Sunday in perhaps the wildest, weirdest fashion possible.
After blowing a 17-point lead with just over three minutes left in regulation, Arizona stayed alive for an NFC wild-card playoff berth when placekicker Jay Feely connected on a 41-yard field goal with 10:18 left in overtime. The kick gave the Cardinals a 37-34 win over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field.
In securing just their fourth winning season since moving from St. Louis before the 1988 season, the Cardinals (9-5) remained a game behind the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers in the wild-card race heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
"It's a great, great feeling," said Arizona running back Andre Ellington, who gained 71 yards on 10 carries. "We have nowhere to go but up as a team. Now we just have to put this one away and get ready for next week."
Arizona's exhausted defense, which was on the field for 18 of 19 plays dating back to regulation's end, came up with a clutch interception. Cornerback Antoine Cason notched his second pick of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, making the catch at the Cardinals 30-yard line and returning it 16 yards.
Following two first downs, including a 15-yard run by running back Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona turned it over to Feely. After a Tennessee timeout, Feely swung his right leg, and the Titans (5-9) were eliminated from AFC playoff contention.
Fitzpatrick blamed himself for the loss.
"I set the wrong protection," he said of his second interception. "The free man came around the end and hit me just as I threw the ball. That one's my fault."
It appeared Fitzpatrick, who completed 36 of 58 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns, would be the hero after leading Tennessee on its stunning comeback late in the fourth quarter.
With 3:12 left, he found wide receiver Michael Preston for a 10-yard scoring strike to cut the Cardinals' lead to 34-24. After forcing a three-and-out, the Titans drove down to the Arizona 6-yard line, and placekicker Rob Bironas hit a 24-yard field goal with 47 seconds left.
Tennessee defensive back Daimion Stafford recovered the onside kick at his team's 46 with 44 seconds remaining after Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was popped and lost the ball. Five plays later, Fitzpatrick found Preston on a slant route in front of cornerback Patrick Peterson for an 8-yard touchdown.
The play tied the score with 10 seconds to go. The fans who remained from a crowd listed at 69,143 went crazy.
The Titans won the coin toss to start overtime, and Fitzpatrick connected with wide receiver Nate Washington on a 33-yard pass on second down to the Cardinals' 43. However, Cason, a former San Diego Charger getting more playing time after rookie Tyrann Mathieu suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, flipped the script on what appeared to be a devastating defeat.
"Someone had to make a play," Cason said. "That's all we told each other in the huddle. That gave us momentum and a lot of confidence, especially on the offensive side of the ball."
Arizona grabbed a 20-17 lead with 2:14 left in the third quarter when quarterback Carson Palmer, who hit on 20 of 30 passes for 231 yards, found tight end Jake Ballard for a 6-yard touchdown pass.
Mendenhall's second 1-yard scoring run of the day increased the advantage to 27-14 with 6:50 left in regulation. Cason tacked on a 20-yard touchdown on an interception return with 6:13 left in regulation to make it 34-17 and apparently wrap things up.
Instead, Tennessee nearly completed an epic comeback that turned into its sixth loss by eight points or fewer.
"It's the same story," Titans free safety Michael Griffin said. "Except for one time, we just can't get over the hump."
Tennessee wide receiver Kendall Wright finished with 12 receptions for 150 yards, both game-high totals.
NOTES: Tennessee WR Justin Hunter was inactive Sunday due to an unspecified violation of team rules. Hunter became a bigger part of the team's offense in recent weeks, catching four passes for 114 yards last week against the Broncos in Denver. ... Arizona TE Rob Housler (groin) sat out and was replaced in the starting lineup by Jake Ballard. ... The Titans' Jurrell Casey notched his 10th sack in the second quarter, becoming just the second defensive tackle in franchise history since 1982 to reach double figures in a season. Ray Childress had 13 in 1992 when the franchise was in Houston.