GLENDALE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer knew Detroit’s reputation for penalties, so when he let go of his pass with the game on the line, a pass interference call was a definite possibility.
Sure enough, Lions cornerback Bill Bentley collided with receiver Andre Roberts in the end zone. A flag was thrown, a 31-yard penalty was called. It was Arizona’s only third-down conversion — in 11 tries— of the day.
Two plays later, Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 1-yard run with 1:59 to play and the Cardinals won 25-21 today in Bruce Arians’ home debut as Arizona’s coach.
“It’s something we talked about a lot,” Palmer said. “Those DBs play the receiver, they don’t play the ball, and when we have opportunities and they’re staring at the receiver, they’re going to face-guard. Dre (Roberts) did a great job setting that up.”
Jay Feely kicked four field goals and Carson Palmer threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to rookie Andre Ellington for Arizona (1-1). Ellington, a sixth-round draft pick out of Clemson, also had a 16-yard catch to start the deciding drive.
“It’s not always going to be perfect,” Arians said. “You’ve got to learn how to ride the emotions of the game, stay with it. I thought our coaches did a great job with some adjustments in the second half and some young kids really stepped up.”
Kerry Taylor, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, had three catches for 40 yards, all late in the game with Larry Fitzgerald sidelined with a sore hamstring. They were Taylor’s first NFL catches.
Matthew Stafford connected with Calvin Johnson on touchdown plays of 72 and 3 yards, and DeAndre Levy returned an interception 66 yards for a score for Detroit (1-1), which led 21-13 midway through the third quarter.
Time and again, Detroit found itself starting deep in its own territory.
“I feel like we lost the field position battle today big-time,” Stafford said.
The Lions were penalized eight times for 101 yards.
Asked how the team could cut down on that problem, Stafford said the Lions are trying.
“We’re making a concerted effort to try and play cleaner football this year,” he said. “I don’t know. Maybe (we should be) asking them to quit throwing flags on us, I don’t know.”
Detroit’s Reggie Bush left the game after taking a helmet to the knee early in the second quarter, and played only briefly in the second half.
“I was able to go back in the game, but I wasn’t myself,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t have gone back in the game, but I tried to give it a shot. We will see what happens this week. I am not sure, but I don’t think it is anything serious.”
Detroit also was without standout defensive tackle Nick Fairley with a sore shoulder.
Arizona’s defense, which held the Lions’ offense scoreless in the second half, forced Detroit to punt from its 8 late.
“We pride ourselves on showing up when it matters,” Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, “and we showed up at the end of the game when it really mattered.”
The Cardinals took over at their 39 and Palmer’s 16-yard pass to Ellington quickly moved it to the Detroit 45. The drive stalled at the 32, and on third-and-8 Palmer threw deep for Andre Roberts, who slowed down to wait for the ball and was hit by Bentley.
After an incomplete pass, Palmer handed off to Mendenhall, who stretched the ball over the goal line with one hand for the deciding score.
Palmer’s pass on the 2-point conversion attempt failed. The Lions hopes ended when Nate Burleson was stopped short of the first down by rookie Tyrann Mathieu.
While Feely was good from 47, 23, 43 and 33 yards, Detroit’s David Akers missed a 47-yarder and had another 47-yard attempt blocked by Justin Bethel.
Stafford completed 24 of 36 for 278 yards and two TDs, but was only 8 of 16 for 77 yards in the second half. Palmer finished 22 of 39 for 248 yards.
Actually, Akers misfired twice in Detroit’s first scoring threat. His 52-yard attempt was wide right, but Bethel was called for running into the kicker. Then, Akers’ 47-yard attempt was wide left.
Feely made his 47-yard try to put Arizona up 3-0 with 11:44 left in the half.
Three plays later, Stafford threw short over the middle to Johnson, who raced 72 yards for the score. Arizona’s Karlos Dansby had a chance to knock the pass down or intercept, but Stafford threw the ball so hard it zipped through the linebacker’s hands.
The Cardinals responded with a six-play, 80-yard drive on their next possession. Palmer lofted a 22-yard pass to Fitzgerald, then found Ellington open on a 36-yard play for the score to put Arizona up 10-7 with 7:32 to play in the second quarter.
Detroit regained the lead with a 10-play, 92-yard touchdown drive capped by Stafford’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Johnson with 1:55 left in the half.
NOTES: After the game, Peterson asked Johnson to trade jerseys and the Lions star obliged. ... Besides defending Johnson and returning punts, Peterson also caught a pass and completed one. ... Detroit is the only team Arizona has beaten in the Cardinals’ last 14 games. Arizona has beaten the Lions twice and gone 0-12 against everyone else ... Campbell got Arizona’s first sack of the season.