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Cardinals feeling special after latest win

By Michael Rushton, NFL Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - More than a few had to be wondering what was going through Ken Whisenhunt's head when the Arizona Cardinals head coach watched his rookie cornerback field a punt at his own one-yard line.

In overtime.

It probably started with a string of "no, no, no, no"; then turned into "okay, okay, okay"; and then after Patrick Peterson spun off St. Louis Rams punter Donnie Jones around his own 35-yard line with nothing but daylight in front of him, it likely changed into "yes, yes, yes, yes."

Peterson's 99-yard punt return to the end zone gave the Cardinals a thrilling 19-13 win over the Rams on Sunday, ending Arizona's six-game slide not with a whimper, but with a great big bang.

Had things gone against the rookie, Peterson may very well have taken up residence in the doghouse Monday morning. But rules were made to be broken, weren't they?

"I want to be clear. We've got rules," Whisenhunt said with a smile. "It's not just, 'Patrick go back there and catch whatever you can where ever you want to catch it.' I don't need to get killed about that either.

"In that situation [Sunday], I'm going to say, thanks for doing it, Patrick. Thanks for going against the rule on that one."

Patrick Peterson has already tied the franchise record set by Ollie Matson for punt returns for a touchdown in a career.
The fifth overall pick in this year's draft out of LSU, Peterson has shone through the gloomy clouds that have hovered over Arizona's 2-6 season thus far. His return gave the Cardinals their first victory since Week 1, and he has already tied the franchise record set by Ollie Matson for punt returns for a touchdown in a career.

Peterson leads the NFL with a 21.8 punt return average and is already starting to be mentioned in the same breath as electric Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester. The 21-year-old corner is one score behind Hester's single-season record for most punt return touchdowns in a single season, and he is the first player in NFL history to take three to the end zone through a season's first eight games.

The speedster said after the game with a laugh that his team needed a play, so he "decided to catch the ball and just run for my life."

The Cardinals don't play on Thanksgiving this season, but Peterson still may not find himself spending the holidays with his family. It appears he has been adopted into the Whisenhunt clan.

"He's a special young man," the head coach said of Peterson. "I'm glad we have him on our football team. My new son."

Not to be lost in the shuffle, Peterson's heroics were made possible when Calais Campbell blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt by the Rams with four seconds left in regulation, setting up overtime. The defensive end's breakthrough helped prevent Arizona from losing by four points or less for the fifth time this season.

"It feels so good. We needed that, especially in a close game where it could go either way," said Campbell. "Our backs against the wall, we found a way to get it done. That's exactly what we needed. We've had so many close games. We can build off this."

Arizona will need the momentum as it kicks off a three-game road trip this Sunday in Philadelphia. The Cardinals are 0-4 on the road this year and have lost 11 straight as the guest dating back to last season.

TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO

The Baltimore Ravens almost let a victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers slip through their hands. Literally.

After both Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin failed to secure potential game- winning touchdown grabs in the final moments of the fourth quarter, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco finally finished off a 92-yard drive by going back to Smith, a rookie out of Maryland. The receiver pulled in Flacco's 26- yard scoring pass with eight seconds left to give the Ravens a 23-20 victory.

The win gave Baltimore a regular-season sweep of Pittsburgh for the first time since 2006 and moved the club a half-game ahead of the Steelers for the top spot in the AFC North. The Cincinnati Bengals are even with the Ravens for first place, with both clubs holding 6-2 records.

While two victories in the same season over the Steelers is something to celebrate, it won't mean much if Pittsburgh gets the last laugh come playoff time.

"We swept them, but don't be fooled. We're going to have to see this team in January," said linebacker Terrell Suggs.

While it is Smith who went from goat to hero, the victory was a big step for Flacco, who was again starting to come under some heat for recent play. The great debate is if Baltimore can win a Super Bowl with the Delaware product under center.

Put his 300-yard passing performance in the pro column, along with his gamble to go back to Smith despite the earlier misses.

"For me to drop those couple of balls, and mess up [Flacco's] rhythm, that was the most frustrating part for me, just letting him down," said Smith. "Our teammates as well, but specifically him. For him to keep coming back to me, it meant a lot."

The Ravens haven't been the most consistent team in the AFC this year, but it is tough to discount one that has now bested the defending conference champions twice this year. A home victory over the Bengals in two weeks would only further solidify Baltimore's championship hopes.

Stay tuned for Round 3.

NO SIGN OF IMPROVEMENT FOR COLTS

Even Peyton Manning can't save the Colts now.

Not only is Indianapolis waiting for its franchise quarterback to recover from multiple neck surgeries, but it is still waiting to win its first game of the season. The Colts fell to 0-9 with Sunday's lopsided loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

With the 31-7 defeat, the Colts are off to their worst start since going 0-10 in 1997. That is a drastic turn for a club that won its first 14 games of the 2009 season.

Is there now any doubt how much Manning means to the club's offense? With Curtis Painter getting the majority of the starts this year, Indianapolis ranks near the bottom of all the major offensive categories, averaging just 14.2 points and 282.8 yards per game. The club's lone points this past weekend came on a pick-six from cornerback Jerraud Powers.

Not that the defense has been good. The Colts are allowing 31.4 points per game, good for dead last in the NFL.

Head coach Jim Caldwell shook things up a bit during the Falcons game, benching both Painter and rookie running back Delone Carter. He did say after the game that Painter is still the starter and that he was just wanted to change the pace.

"We still have some ballgames left," said Caldwell. "We're just going to keep working at it, and keep focusing and keep trying to get a little bit better week after week."

The Colts try for win No. 1 this weekend against a visiting Jacksonville team before getting their much-needed bye week.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Michael Rushton at mrushton@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Michael Rushton on Twitter and Facebook.

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