Cardinals wilt in second half of 25-13 loss to Steelers
PITTSBURGH - Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals spent a few days at the posh Greenbrier Resort in the West Virginia mountains last week believing it would better prepare them for Michael Vick and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Containing Vick turned out not to be a problem. Landry Jones was another matter entirely.
Pittsburgh's third-string quarterback ignited a second-half rally as the Steelers stunned the Cardinals 25-13 on Sunday, ruining a homecoming of sorts for Arians.
Arians spent nearly a decade with the Steelers before being forced out at the end of the 2011 season in a move jokingly called a "refirement."
Three-plus seasons and two NFL Coach of the Year awards later, Arians returned to Heinz Field with one of the best teams in the league. Arizona played like it for a half before crumbling under its own mistakes and the stunning play of Jones.
Filling in after an ineffective Vick left with a right hamstring injury, Jones completed 8 of 12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns to Martavis Bryant in his first action during the regular season.
"He played very well for a young guy coming into that situation," Arians said. "He won the football game."
And the Cardinals (4-2) - somewhat bafflingly - lost it. Arizona outgained Pittsburgh 469-310, punted only three times and spent long stretches moving up and down Heinz Field with relative ease. Yet the NFL's highest-scoring team also turned it over three times, scored just one touchdown on four trips in the red zone, and let the Steelers (4-2) hang around far too long.
"If we are scoring touchdowns and we put 30 points on the board, we walk out of here with a win," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "In both games we lost we did not execute in the red zone. So it is not a lot of problems to fix, it is just one glaring one."
Carson Palmer threw for 421 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. John Brown caught 10 balls for 196 yards, but also fumbled early in the second half after getting drilled by Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
By then Pittsburgh was back in the game after nearly getting run out of its own building in the first half. Yet Arizona only led 10-3 at the break; a touchdown was wiped out on an offensive pass interference, letting a second-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 25 turn into a punt.
Vick, who dazzled late in a thrilling last-play win at San Diego on Monday night, actually left twice. He exited for a few snaps in the second quarter after getting what the team called "dirt in his eye" at the end of a 10-yard scramble, and was pulled for good in the third quarter after tweaking his right hamstring.
Enter Jones, who has struggled to distinguish himself in three seasons as the third-stringer behind Ben Roethlisberger.
Thrust into the first meaningful action of his pro career - his last college game at Oklahoma saw the Sooners lose to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the 2013 Cotton Bowl - Jones showed remarkable poise. He hit Bryant for a leaping 8-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to give the Steelers a 12-10 lead.
"I didn't expect them to come out throwing the ball," Arizona defensive tackle Calais Campbell said. "I thought when the third-string quarterback came in, they would run the ball. So, that caught us off-guard a little bit. But you've got to play football, no matter who's back there."
Jones later hit Bryant for a 23-yard gain and Antonio Brown with a pretty back shoulder throw, both of which set up Chris Boswell field goals, the last of which gave the Steelers a five-point lead with 7:13 to play.
Pittsburgh's resurgent defense made it stand. Mike Mitchell picked off Palmer in the end zone to end Arizona's last gasp.
"I never saw (Mitchell)," Palmer said. "That can't happen. You have to see that guy and I didn't see him standing there in the middle of the field."
Jones found Bryant over the middle and the wide receiver, who missed the first four games after violating the NFL's substance abuse and sat out the San Diego game with a knee injury, bolted down the sideline on his way to a clincher few saw coming.
NOTES: Arizona lost tight end Darren Fells with a shoulder injury. ... Fitzgerald finished with eight catches for 93 yards on the same field where he starred in college at Pittsburgh. ... The Cardinals were penalized nine times for 111 yards. ... Arizona hosts Baltimore on Oct. 26.