Young Cardinals have big roles in Arizona's win
By BOB BAUM
AP Sports Writer
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals got contributions from several places in their first victory of the season.
A sixth-round pick, a receiver who might as well be a rookie, a couple of undrafted rookies and a high-profile player considered a big risk when drafted came through for the Cardinals in a 25-21 come-from-behind victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
Age doesn’t figure into the equation for coach Bruce Arians.
“As long as a guy shows me he can play football, we’ll play him,” Arians said on Monday.
No. 1 on that list of young contributors is running back Andre Ellington, a sixth-round pick from Clemson who caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer and ran 16 yards to kick-start the deciding touchdown drive.
Then there’s Kerry Taylor, the former Arizona State receiver who had knocked around on practice squads for five teams and was a late cut by Arizona in the preseason.
He was signed to the Cardinals practice squad, then promoted to the active roster Saturday because Larry Fitzgerald had an ailing hamstring.
When Fitzgerald couldn’t go any longer, Taylor came in to make three late catches for 40 yards.
Jaron Brown and Tony Jefferson were the only undrafted rookies to make the Cardinals roster.
Brown, a wide receiver and Clemson teammate of Ellington, beat out Taylor for the fourth receiver spot and played more and more as Sunday’s game went on and it became apparent that Fitzgerald was struggling. Brown caught just one pass for 11 yards, but was in on 13 plays on offense and 17 plays on special teams.
Jefferson, who gambled on leaving Oklahoma only to find himself undrafted, had an uphill battle to make the Arizona roster but did so by his play in the preseason.
He has so impressed the coaching staff that defensive coordinator Todd Bolles used him in 81 percent of the defensive plays Sunday, allowing Yeremiah Bell to play more at linebacker. Jefferson had three tackles, one for a loss.
Then there’s Tyrann Mathieu.
Many questioned the wisdom of Arizona taking the former LSU star in the third round. Mathieu had been kicked off the team and out of school for marijuana-related problems and had been out of football last year. But he has been dazzling at times this season.
In last week’s loss at St. Louis, Mathieu raced out of nowhere to poke the ball away from the Rams’ Jared Cook at the 1-yard line, saving a touchdown.
On Sunday, when Detroit was faced with a fourth-and-3 at its 46 with a little over a minute to play, Matthew Stafford threw short to Nate Burleson and Mathieu wrapped him up and dropped him a yard shy of the first down.
“I kind of knew it was coming to me,” Mathieu said.
Ellington has gained an increasing role because of his speed. The touchdown catch was the same play that had failed to connect against the Rams.
“It means a lot for the coaches to have that trust in me early on in my career,” Ellington said. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to just go out there and show them that I deserve that.”
Taylor had traveled the country to get that chance, with practice squad stops in Green Bay, New England (twice), San Francisco and Minnesota.
“This is the first time I’ve ever gotten a real opportunity,” he said after Monday’s team meetings. “I came to a place here where I had a chance to make the roster, didn’t at first, but now I’m up. I got a chance to go on the field and show what I can do in a real live game.”
NOTES: Arians said he doesn’t want Fitzgerald’s injury to be a lingering thing and it will depend on what happens this week whether he will be available Sunday at New Orleans. ... Tight end Rob Housler, who missed the first two games with a high ankle sprain, said he will try to practice on Wednesday. ... The Cardinals will not return to Arizona after the Saints game, but will go to Bradenton, Fla., to practice next week before they play at Tampa Bay on Sept. 29.