Cardinals credit Monday practice for Atlanta winPosted: Updated:
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Arizona coach Bruce Arians says the foundation of his team's victory over Atlanta was laid six days earlier in a grueling workout.
"This game was won on Monday when I asked the team to come out in pads, and we had a training camp practice," Arians said. "A lot of teams would balk at that, but our leadership and our veterans, we had the best practice we had all year, and it set the tempo for this game and set the tempo for the rest of the season."
With a breakout game from Andre Ellington and another strong performance by the defense, the Cardinals (4-4) beat the Falcons 27-13.
Ellington rushed for 154 yards in 15 carries, including an 80-yarder for a touchdown, tied for the third-longest running play in Cardinals history.
Matt Ryan, intercepted three times total in the first six games, was picked off four times by the Cardinals as the Falcons, a preseason playoff favorite, fell to 2-5.
Arizona has a bye this week.
Here are five things learned from the Cardinals' victory.
ELLINGTON CAN FLY: Ellington was a sixth-round draft pick out of Clemson, but from the start Arians thought the fleet running back could be a significant part of the offense.
With Rashard Mendenhall out with a toe injury, Ellington got his first NFL start.
"I try to be the best I can be," Ellington said. "When my opportunity comes, I just try to make the best of it."
It wasn't as if Ellington caught the Falcons by surprise, either.
"We said that he was going to be a potential game-wrecker going into this ball game," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said, "because he's a guy that has very good speed, very good vision, and he did a very nice job."
Blocks from wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd cleared the way on the 80-yard TD run, one of Arizona's three second-quarter touchdowns.
Fitzgerald said Ellington is capable of this kind of performance "every single week."
"He's so talented," Fitzgerald said. "He always makes the first man miss."
JACKSON'S ROUGH RETURN: For the first time since week two, Atlanta had the services of running back Steven Jackson, but the Falcons' ground game was virtually nonexistent.
Jackson, who had been sidelined with a hamstring injury, gained six yards on 11 carries.
Overall, Atlanta managed just 27 yards on the ground, and 10 of that was on a scramble by Ryan.
"We'll have to evaluate it when we get a chance to look at the film, but we just didn't get it going for whatever reason," Ryan said.
A RUN GAME HELPS PALMER: On the other hand, the Cardinals rushed for 201 yards, and that made Carson Palmer's life a whole lot easier.
"Defensively, you've got to worry about 38 (Ellington) in the game. You've got to worry about screens," Palmer said. "Then the play action. Those runs, the big 80-yard or whatever it was, is in the safeties' minds. When you see that action happen, you've got to at least step to the run. Before you know it, the receiver on the outside can get behind you."
After an early interception, Palmer completed five straight passes, two for touchdowns.
The run threat gave Palmer more time.
"First of all, it slows the pass rush down," Fitzgerald said. "Those guys have to play the run. So they can't get off the ball as fast because they have to maintain their gaps. We were able to run the ball so effectively, it chews up the clock, too."
FALCONS SEASON SLIPPING AWAY: Atlanta thought perhaps it had righted the ship with a victory over Tampa Bay, but those hopes evaporated with a poor showing in the desert.
Next week, Atlanta is at resurgent Carolina, then comes a home game against Seattle.
" We have to continue to dig and dig out of the hole that we are in," Smith said. "We did not play very good football today. Probably the thing I am most concerned about is that we had all of those procedural penalties. It's not that hard to see the ball move and not jump early. We put ourselves in situations where we can't overcome them.
"On the defensive side, I thought in the second half they got put in some bad situations, in terms of turnovers, and battled through it, but in the first half it wasn't even close."
FITZGERALD'S MILESTONE: When Fitzgerald made his fourth catch of the day, it made him the youngest person in NFL history - at 30 years and 57 days - to reach 800 career receptions.
He tossed the ball to the sidelines for safekeeping. It will be added to his collection. He has the ball from his first NFL catch, and the one for each 100 catches thereafter.
Typically, he downplayed the achievement.
"Jerry Rice had 1,000 catches after he turned 30," Fitzgerald said. "So I'm a long way from where I need to be."
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