Cardinals QB Anderson earns respect of coaches, teammates

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Any doubt whether Derek Anderson would have the respect of his Arizona Cardinals coaches and teammates ended late in the third quarter of last weekend's season opener.

St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long delivered a brutal hit to the 6-foot-6 quarterback's chest and, after one more play, Anderson walked off the field in so much pain that it seemed he might be out for the game.

Yet he was back the next series and, in the fourth quarter, completed six of seven passes in an 86-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown, throwing 21 yards to Larry Fitzgerald for the score in a 21-17 victory.

"He's a tough guy, man," Fitzgerald said.

Anderson said he was a little sore Monday, but he felt better as the week progressed and will be fine for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

"It's my job," Anderson said. "As bad as it hurts for a second, when you win and balls are caught and you make big plays, it's well worth it."

Anderson was far from perfect against the Rams, but it has been a nice rebirth after his bitter departure from the Cleveland Browns. For the first time in his bumpy pro career, Anderson is 1-0.

"It felt good," Anderson said. "It wasn't pretty. I think we all know after we looked at the tape where we can get better. I think that comes the more we worked together. Things will kind of click a little bit better, a little bit faster, but it felt good."

Anderson completed 22 of 41 passes for 297 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. His 53 percent completion rate is right on his average in a career where consistent accuracy has been a persistent problem. He threw some spectacular passes in the game, and some bad ones, too.

"We're still continuing to work on the things we've been working on since I've been here," coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the Cardinals worked out in triple-digit heat Thursday, "his footwork, his reads, his progressions, his throws. He's getting more and more time with the first guys. He's taking more and more reps, and we're hoping that he continues to improve. That's what you expect out of the position and expect out of him."

Anderson was particularly out of sync with Fitzgerald, throwing to him 15 times with just three completions. Slowed by a knee injury, Fitzgerald believed he would have caught "six or seven" of those passes had he been healthy.

"We haven't worked extensively together, and that's going to come in time," he said.

Fitzgerald caught the game's biggest pass, though, the 21-yarder with 6:18 to play for what proved to be the game winner. The catch ended a seven-play, 86-yard drive. Anderson completed 6 of 7 passes for 101 yards on the drive as Arizona overcame holding and illegal formation penalties.

Anderson made the Pro Bowl with Cleveland in 2007, but he and the team struggled the following year, which ended for him after Week 13 with a season-ending knee injury. Anderson never forgave the Browns fans who cheered as he lay in pain on the field. He began last season as Cleveland's starter. He started seven games in 2009 before being benched in favor of Brady Quinn.

The Browns released Anderson after the season.

Anderson signed a two-year deal with Arizona and was the No. 2 quarterback behind Matt Leinart in training camp. But Anderson started the third preseason game and has held the job ever since, with an unhappy Leinart released by the team just before the season began.

"We welcomed D.A. with open arms," Fitzgerald said. "He's one of the guys. He's worked extremely hard. He put in his time this offseason. He fought hard to get his position, and we're supporting him. We're going to try to make his job as easy as possible throughout the course of this year. He has all the physical tools that anybody could ask for, we've just got to get in position to make plays for him."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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