Adrian Wilson and Chris Johnson (AP)
Backup quarterback Matt Leinart shook off the rust in Tennessee, but the Arizona Cardinals couldn't contain a last second game-winning touchdown and lost their first road game, 20-17. The Titans' win marked their fifth in a row, after an 0-6 start. The Cardinals added one to the loss column but have a lot to be thankful for after a thrilling game in the South.
The Arizona Cardinals' defense and special teams certainly did its part in the Cardinals 20-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans but nobody felt more pressure than Matt Leinart.
The fourth-year player had a lot to prove when the Cardinals gave him the starting nod in place of Kurt Warner who still had concussion-like symptoms from the blow to the head that he took the week prior against the St. Louis Rams.
Leinart showed up a bit rusty because the Cardinals were pretty confident that Warner would be the starter, so Warner took his regular snaps in practice.
Leinart started to find his stride in the second quarter. He was near perfect in his first drive of the second half until he fired off a long pass and was sacked two plays later. On the game, Leinart went 21 out-of 31 and threw for 220 yards. All but 83 of those yards came in the second half.
Leinart's accuracy was pin-point, and he handled the Titans pressure well. He was never picked off and was sacked just once. Coach Ken Whisenhunt's play calling also went a long way for Leinart's ability to carry his team.
But the Titans were able to take advantage of Leinart's only sack. Once the Cardinals offense was off the field, Chris Johnson sprinted 85 yards for the game's first touchdown. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came in to help, but he closed in on the NFL's leading rusher too late.
LaRod Stephens-Howling matched Johnson's efforts and closed in on the Titan's 13-3 lead with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, the first of his young career. Stephens-Howling brought the Cardinals to a manageable 13-10 deficit.
Tim Hightower also joined in the scoring fun. He took a toss from Leinart to take the Cardinals first lead of the game, 17-10 in the fourth quarter.
Neither Hightower nor Stephens-Howling reached the end zone again, but the rookie special teamer, Stephens-Howling, continued to make an impact. He helped his team twice more by downing a pair of punts. The most notable happened with less than three minutes on the game clock. He downed the punt at the 1-yard line to put the Titans on the longest of fields.
Titans QB Vince Young operated his offense beautifully on the long field under the two minute warning. The Cardinals continued to let opposing tight ends get the best of them. TE Jared Cook got his playing time and helped his team march down the field. Young fired off the game-winning touchdown to Kenny Britt in the final second of the game.
The heart-stopping final plays of the game may have negated the Cardinals work but Arizona has a lot to be proud of. There was production from all facets of the Cardinals roster. Leinart spread the wealth to nine different receivers to account for his 220 yards. Seven different players compiled more than 20 receiving yards. Arizona went to work for Leinart and he returned his team's efforts two-fold.
The Cardinals' defense was hard-hitting and energized. Darnell Dockett registered three sacks. The Cardinals need to put an emphasis on making him happy this offseason.
Bryant McFadden, who was questionable for Sunday, tacked on five tackles and recovered a fumble forced by Rodgers-Cromartie. Also in the secondary, Ralph Brown was as consistent as usual.
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