Titans-Cardinals: What we learned

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."

What the Titans said
"This team never quits. We always fight until the end just trying to get the victory." -- Running back Chris Johnson on his pride in the team's comeback.

What the Cardinals said
"Those are the drives where you dig deep. Those are the championship drives, the drives that you need to push to be a playoff team." -- Cornerback Antoine Cason on how the defense overcame fatigue in overtime.

What we learned about the Titans
1. Wide receiver Kendall Wright has become the go-to guy in the passing game. Wright caught 12 passes for 150 yards, giving him 85 receptions for 1,007 yards on the year. While Wright has just two touchdowns, the second-year player from Missouri gets open continually on underneath routes and does a good job of getting yardage after the catch.
2. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick amassed some gaudy stats Sunday, hitting 36 of 58 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns, but also threw two costly interceptions. He tossed a pick-6 to cornerback Antoine Cason in the fourth quarter and also hit Cason on the third play of overtime, leading to Arizona's winning field goal. There is a reason Fitzpatrick is 25-49-1 as an NFL starter and it is called turnovers.

What we learned about the Cardinals
1. Running back Andre Ellington has become quite a weapon for the offense. The rookie from Clemson rushed 10 times for 71 yards and caught four passes for 87 yards. Ellington has the speed to break a big run, the moves to shake free from linebackers in pass coverage and surprising power between the tackles.
2. The loss of rookie defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to a season-ending knee injury appeared to hurt the secondary Sunday. The Titans aren't known for their passing attack, but they piled up 402 yards and overcame a 34-17 deficit in just over three minutes of the fourth quarter. You can bet Seattle and San Francisco, Arizona's last two opponents, will take notice of this and try to exploit a weaker unit.

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