GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the ball is bouncing your way, even 6-5, 335-pound guards turn alert pass deflections into 10-yard receptions to help set up game-winning field goals.
“It’s what happens; it’s football,” said Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, referring to left guard Mike Iupati’s key grab. “That’s why everybody loves it.”
Greenway had a pained look on his face as he said that. Thursday night, the ball bounced Arizona’s way early, too often and finally sealed a 23-20 win over the Vikings at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Vikings fumbled the ball away in the red zone after driving 74 yards in nine plays while trailing 10-7 early in the second quarter. Receiver Jarius Wright was fighting for extra yardage when 211-pound Deone Bucannon stripped him from behind. On the Cardinals’ depth chart, Bucannon is described as the $LB, short for “money backer.”
“That was a good play by him,” Wright said. “But it probably was me trying to do too much.”
The Vikings lost two more fumbles in Cardinals territory as they lost the turnover battle 3-0. Adrian Peterson lost a fumble when he was stripped on a hard hit by tackle Josh Mauro. And quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked and stripped of the ball when Dwight Freeney beat left tackle Matt Kalil with a spin move on first-and-10 from the Cardinals 31-yard line with five seconds left.
Meanwhile, when the Vikings had opportunities for takeaways, they couldn’t deliver. The most glaring example was cornerback Xavier Rhodes dropping what probably would have been a pick-six late in the third quarter.
Carson Palmer threw quick to Michael Floyd in the left flat, near the sideline. Rhodes read it, closed in and then …
“Oh, man, I just got too excited,” said Rhodes, who has only one interception in three seasons, none this year. “I had it in my hands and just dropped it. There was clear sailing if I catch that ball.”
The drop came on second-and-9 from the Arizona 43. Palmer completed a 10-yard pass against Rhodes one play later to keep the driving going. The Cardinals kicked a field goal to take a 20-10 lead when it could have been 17-17 with a pick-six.
Rhodes had injured one of his wrists and missed five plays earlier in the game. He was asked if that affected him on the drop.
“No excuses,” he said. “I have to make those plays. That would have changed the momentum entirely.”
Meanwhile, Rhodes finished with one fewer catch than a 6-5, 335-pound guard.
With 2:48 left and the game tied 20-20, Palmer went to a quick set and threw backside on first-and-10 from his 49-yard line. Defensive end Brian Robison alertly recognized the quick pass and got his arms up to deflect the ball into the air.
“Great play by Brian just to see the quarterback with a quick set,” said Greenway, who dragged Iupati down after his 10-yard gain. “It was lucky, well, not lucky, but it’s just one of those plays that bounce in the right direction. I think we had guys right there, too. One of our guys could catch it. It happens.”
Seven plays later, the Cardinals still had the ball because, well, when you’re about to kick a 47-yard field goal to win your seventh straight game, the ball tends to bounce your way.