The Arizona Cardinals trailed the St. Louis Rams 14-10 through three quarters on Sunday, and then, well, then the fourth quarter happened.
Arizona outscored St. Louis 21-0 in the final quarter to win 31-14 and improve to 8-1. It was just the second time all season that the Cardinals won by more than 10 points. Average margin of victory entering Sunday? 8.1 points.
What makes this team so good when it matters most?
“We’re confident,” Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We know that the game is won or lost in the fourth quarter. Everything that happens before then, you just got to put yourself in position to have a chance to win the game. We always perform well in the fourth quarter. We take pride in performing well in the fourth quarter.”
The Cardinals certainly did that on Sunday, as backup quarterback Drew Stanton threw a go-ahead, 48-yard touchdown pass to John Brown midway through the quarter to give Arizona a 17-14 lead. The Cardinals added two defensive touchdowns – a 30-yard pick-six by Patrick Peterson and a 14-yard fumble return by Antonio Cromartie – to ice the game.
The Cardinals are 15-3 in their last 18 games dating back to last season, with the only losses coming to Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver – two of which were on the road. When exactly did this fourth-quarter dominance come about?
“It was right around halfway through last year,” Campbell said. “Once we bought into our coaches’ game plan and what they were trying to do with us, I think we started playing so much better. Last year, missing the playoffs, I think, really is the reason we’re playing great now. We know how important each game is. Every game is so critical to making the playoffs this year. We’ve played every game like it was a championship game.”
Given Carson Palmer’s knee injury, it’s a good thing they have. Palmer exited the game Sunday with a non-contact knee injury, which was later diagnosed as a torn ACL. He will miss the rest of the season.
“It was shocking,” Campbell said. “You’re scared for him, hoping it wasn’t too serious. But then you find the news out (Monday) that it is very serious. That’s a tough blow. Carson’s our leader. He’s the guy that we bought into. But in football, stuff like this happens. As sad as it is, you kind of got to move forward. We have a guy in Drew Stanton we’re very confident in. We know that he can get the job done. We’ll make sure as a defense we’ll try to get short fields for him and let him go to work.”
Stanton, 30, is 46-of-93 (49.5 percent) for 614 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in four games this season. The Cardinals have a two-game lead over Seattle (6-3) and a thee-game lead over San Francisco (5-4) in the NFC West, meaning they’re still the favorites to win the division.
Whether Stanton can actually lead the Cardinals to the Super Bowl remains to be seen, but having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs would certainly help. The Super Bowl, by the way, is in Glendale this season.
And if you think the Cardinals haven’t been talking about that, you had better think again.
“Yeah, we’ve been discussing it all year,” Campbell said. “That was our motivation, our goal. This whole year we’ve been discussing (it and) just making sure we do whatever’s required now to set us up to reach our goal and play in the Super Bowl. (Playing it in our home stadium would make) it that much more special.”