What we learned: Chris Johnson leads Cardinals to win

A rejuvenated Chris Johnson provided a pair of game-changing plays, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown to lead the Arizona Cardinals to a 26-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Arizona safety Tony Jefferson intercepted Joe Flacco in the end zone with less than 10 seconds remaining, ending the Ravens' chances of sending the game to overtime with a potential touchdown and two-point conversion. The Cardinals never should have been in that position, but Chandler Catanzaro shanked an extra point, Carson Palmer took an ill-timed intentional-grounding penalty, Andre Ellington failed to stay inbounds to kill the clock on a key first down and the typically ultra-aggressive Bruce Arians forgot his guts with a few questionable play calls late in the game. They can thank Jefferson and Patrick Peterson for making clutch plays that kept Baltimore out of the end zone as the clock ticked down.
  1. A handful of Arizona stars are partying like it's 2009, led by Comeback Player of the Year candidate Johnson. Remade in the desert, a more physical and patient Johnson staked the Cardinals to an early lead with an impressive tackle-breaking touchdown. He went on to give his team a two-score lead late in the third quarter, setting up an easy field goal with the only 62-yard play in history that featured the runner sitting in a nose tackle's lap for nearly a full second.

The best NFL offenses have a symbiotic relationship, with balanced ground and aerial attacks working hand-in-glove to keep opposing defenses honest. Just as Arians' deep-passing scheme has helped revitalize Johnson's career, the artist formerly known as CJ2K has played a key role in Carson Palmer's renaissance, reviving a rushing game that ranked dead-last in the NFL at 3.3 yards per carry last season.

"I honestly thought my career was over," Johnson told NFL Media's James Palmer after the game. Now he's second only to Atlanta's Devonta Freeman with 567 rushing yards this season.

  1. The Ravens followed through on their plan to shorten the game with long possessions, but they were simply outmanned versus a more talented opponent. With no speed element to respect in the passing game, the Cardinals' safeties loaded the box to shut down Justin Forsett in the second half. Steve Smith might rank with Jerry Rice as the most effective "old" wide receivers the NFL has ever seen, but he can only do so much week-in and week-out.
  1. Speaking of Smith, only Allen Robinson (14) has more plays of 20-plus yards this season. The 36-year-old passed Henry Ellard and Andre Johnson to move into 11th place on the all-time list for receiving yards. Among wide receivers, his 18,292 all-purpose yards rank behind only Hall of Famers Rice and Tim Brown. He continues to build an air-tight case for Canton in five years.
  1. The Cardinals still own the NFL's best point differential at +96, but the Rams, Steelers and Ravens have exposed a chink their armor: red-zone offense. Whereas Palmer's attack was nearly flawless in the red area versus the tin-can defenses of the Saints, Bears, 49ers and Lions, they have struggled to punch it into the end zone in their three closest games. They were forced to settle for a pair of 21-yard, chip-shot field goals Monday night, adding a 55-yard attempt when David Johnson whiffed in pass protection. They will have to concentrate on increasing their efficiency and consistency going forward.
  1. Tyrann Mathieu was a no-brainer pick on our quarter-season All-Pro team and will remain so next week on our midseason All-Pro squad. The NFL's most complete defensive back, Mathieu has generated game-changing plays via exceptional instincts, ball skills and blitz timing on a weekly basis. He added seven tackles (three for losses) and a sack versus the Ravens, highlighted by a two-play sequence in which he deflected a touchdown out of Chris Givens' hands and then snuffed out Givens' end-around for a 6-yard loss on the same second-quarter series.
  1. Ravens coach John Harbaugh revealed after the game that the team's headphones were problematic all night, particularly on the final drive. Although he doesn't believe Baltimore lost any time due to the malfunction, he was clearly exasperated.

"(Offensive coordinator) Marc (Trestman) had to yell, we couldn't get the personnel group," Harbaugh explained, "so guys had to run the personnel group on and off. All those kinds of things were really challenging to be honest with you."

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