"We got our backs against the wall in the first half committing all those turnovers," said Portis, who had his sixth 100-yard game this season and second straight. "Once we got down to it, we knew what our bread and butter was."
Brown started up the middle and veered left to outrun the pursuit, including kicker Nick Novak, who was signed on Dec. 2 when speedier Neil Rackers tore a calf muscle. Rackers has made a specialty of big hits against returners.
With Rackers only partially healed, the NFL touchbacks leader was taken off kickoff duty this game.
"It was a big boost for us," Mark Brunell said. "It came at the right time. Great special teams play. They've been doing that all year. We were kind of down at that point, and so it was a lot of fun."
The Redskins (7-6) needed both shots in the arm after Brunell's horrendous first half. Coming in with five interceptions and a strong passer rating, Brunell had three picked off in the first 30 minutes, going 10 for 18 for 59 yards. He finished 18 of 28 for 122 yards.
Kurt Warner passed for 255 yards and a touchdown to LeRon McCoy, but the Cardinals (4-9), who lost three fumbles, were unable to win two straight for the first time all season.
Arizona got its other points from Rackers' field goals of 44 and 20 yards.
"We have to become balanced to be a good football team," Warner said about Arizona's 240-62 disparity in passing-rushing yardage.
But Washington's defense swarmed Fitzgerald, Ade Jimoh throwing him for a 1-yard loss when he caught a short pass. The Skins then buried J.J. Arrington on fourth-and-2, with Sean Taylor making the first hit.
"We had a little alert," the free safety said. "Pierson (Prioleau) looked back to me like, 'Cut close, cut close,' so I kind of had a little jump on it, and everybody just stayed inside their blocks and left me with a one-on-one tackle."
The game turned chippy in the first half when Rackers scuffled with Washington linebacker Khary Campbell, and kicker John Hall elbowed Cardinals defensive end R-Kal Truluck, forcing Truluck to sit out the second half with a bruised jaw.
"I'm not sure what that's all about. I was on the sidelines," Hall said, adding that Rackers should be getting the questions. "He took his helmet off. I wasn't like that."
Warner was sacked and fumbled on the first play of the game, but Arrington scooped up the ball and picked up yardage. Taylor picked off Warner's third pass, but Antrel Rolle answered when he intercepted Brunell's pass and returned it 29 yards while reversing direction three times.
That was in the first 7:05.
Each team gave up the ball on its next possession, Arizona when Prioleau sacked Warner and recovered his fumble, and the Redskins on an interception by David Macklin.
But when Arrington fumbled on Arizona's second play and Marcus Washington recovered at the Cardinals 23, Washington capitalized with a 41-yard field goal by Hall.
A 31-yard kickoff return by Reggie Swinton set up Arizona for a 65-yard drive capped by Warner's 2-yard scoring pass to McCoy. Arizona went up 10-3 on Rackers' field goal following Adrian Wilson's interception and 35-yard return.
"It was a hard-hitting game," Arizona coach Dennis Green said. "I think we laid it on them a few times and they gave it up, and we gave it up a few times."
Notes: Arizona's Anquan Boldin had nine catches for 114 yards in his third straight 100-yard game -- first such string since David Boston in 2001 -- and has 1,106 this season. Fitzgerald has 1,151. The other time the Cardinals had two 1,000-yard receivers was 1997 (Rob Moore and Frank Sanders). ... Portis has 1,184 yards rushing. ... The Cardinals have made 36 field goals, three shy of the NFL record shared by Miami (1999) and St. Louis (2003).