Hard hits and big plays: Cardinals aren't just a finesse team after all

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals are pummeling that "finesse team" label into submission.

Sure, Kurt Warner throws some pretty passes, and he has some marvelous receivers to catch them. But the Cardinals' tough side was on national display Sunday night in a dominating 30-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

"We played a good football game yesterday, and we won that game for that sole reason," said Warner, who sustained a hip pointer late in the game but said he was feeling much better on Monday. "We won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."

The Cardinals held Adrian Peterson to 19 yards rushing on 13 carries, the second-lowest total of his career. Peterson was stopped for a loss or no gain seven times.

Brett Favre was sacked three times, twice by Bertrand Berry, as the Cardinals increased their sack total to 35, tied for third-most in the league.

Favre, who had thrown three interceptions through 11 games, was picked off twice, and the Cardinals outrushed the Vikings 113-62.

On offense, receiver Anquan Boldin snatched the ball from the outstretched arms of a defender, knocking the defender down, then breaking another tackle on a 39-yard touchdown play.

"What do you say?" Warner said. "Those are the plays that you love to watch on replay. What makes him so special is you get the ball in his hands, I mean he's second to none. It was a special play at a big time for us."

Larry Fitzgerald got into the act, carrying a pile of tacklers seven yards after a catch.

"We've got the receivers and a good quarterback, and I know we threw the ball around a lot, but we've got some tough guys on this team," running back Tim Hightower said. "Just because schematically that's what we do I don't think that makes us a finesse team at all, but for whatever reason that's been the word on us.

"I think the more you start watching us, the more and more you'll see that's not the case."

For the first time in two seasons, the Cardinals had a personnel change in the offensive line when left tackle Mike Gandy sat out the game with a pelvis injury. Jeremy Bridges played left tackle for the first time in his career.

"Just play physical football, that's what we do," Bridges said. "Everybody wants to say the Arizona Cardinals are a finesse team but we'll hit you in the mouth. We just want to show the world that we will do that and what greater stage than Sunday Night Football?"

Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, who has 14.5 sacks, didn't even get a tackle on Sunday.

The performance against the Vikings followed a toe-to-toe with the Titans at Tennessee, a game the Cardinals lost 20-17 when Vince Young led a 99-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a game-winning touchdown as time expired.

It was the team's lone defeat over the last five games as Arizona (8-4) opened a three-game lead in the NFC West. The Cardinals, with their best record through 12 games since 1976, can clinch their second straight division title with a victory at San Francisco next Monday night.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the important thing for Arizona is to stay consistent with that hard-hitting, intense approach.

"It can't just be for a Sunday night game or a game where our backs are against the wall," he said. "It needs to be the way we go. We have done a good job with that. I'm not saying we haven't played as a physical football team, but the intensity level, the attention to detail, the way we finished things last night, that was certainly like a playoff game. We played like it was a playoff game."

Guard Reggie Wells said the Cardinals did nothing they didn't expect to do.

"We don't really need to buy into all the hype that the media portrays for other teams," he said. "We've been through some battles and some journeys of our own. Nobody talks about us going to the Super Bowl last year. You just hear how good these other teams are. So we don't pay any attention to that one way or another. We just go out there and do our thing."

Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said the team's personality transformation can be traced to the work of strength and conditioning coach John Lott, who came to Arizona when Whisenhunt was hired as head coach in 2007.

"He doesn't get a lot of credit and a lot of people don't understand," Dockett said, "but you look at what he's done since he's been here. We're built to beat teams down."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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