LANDOVER, Md. In the final 30 seconds, the Arizona Cardinals used three quarterbacks, scored a touchdown, failed on a 2-point conversion, recovered an onside kick and barely just barely missed a 55-yard field goal.
It was only after Neil Rackers' kick sailed wide left that the Washington Redskins could take a deep sigh, digest all that happened and realize that, despite their effort, they had not quite found a new way to blow a ballgame.
The Redskins beat the Cardinals 21-19 on a Sunday afternoon that degenerated into a series of unfortunate events. The winning team had 160 total yards and was on the wrong side of nearly every statistic except two of the big ones: turnovers and penalties.
"Any team can come back and beat you at the end of the game if you give them the amount of chances we gave those guys," Redskins cornerback Fred Smoot said. "Put it like this: We're lucky to get out of here with a victory."
The box score will show Clinton Portis with a pair of short touchdown runs for the Redskins (4-2), who, after this effort, can't be too excited about playing unbeaten New England next. The Cardinals are 3-4 heading into their bye, a good piece of timing since it will probably take two weeks to figure this one out.
"A lot of people are going to say, 'Same old Cardinals,"' Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That to me wasn't the same old Cardinals. Those guys didn't quit. We obviously didn't make enough plays to win. We made too many mistakes."
To be sure, no one expected a classic. The Cardinals showed up with a one-armed quarterback and two backups who barely knew the play book, while the Redskins had to patch together a starting offense after injuries to three linemen last week.
But that didn't do much to explain the combined 15 penalties for 128 yards. Or the blocked punt by the Cardinals. Or the blocked extra point by the Redskins. Or the end-of-first-half mini-melee that included the bizarre sight of Cardinals lineman Elton Brown getting yanked to the ground in a wrestling-style takedown by an official.
Three of the game's six touchdowns were the product of interceptions, but the Redskins actually put together a decent drive in the third quarter to take a 21-6 lead. Safety LaRon Landry (late hit) and linebacker London Fletcher (taunting the bench) then let the Cardinals back in by committing dead-ball fouls on third downs during a long drive that eventually resulted in a touchdown.
Then came the real fun. Kurt Warner, who started despite a torn elbow ligament that made it awkward to hand the ball off, drove the Cardinals from Arizona's 29 to Washington's 1 in the final minutes. Then surprise Tim Rattay entered and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Pope to make the score 21-19 with 21 seconds to play.
The second surprise came when the shotgun snap on the 2-point conversion went straight to receiver Anquan Boldin, who scrambled to the right, found nowhere to run and threw feebly toward Larry Fitzgerald. Landry caught the ball instead.
"When those plays work, they're great. When they don't work, people are going to question them," Whisenhunt said. "Anquan is an outstanding football player. When you put the ball in his hands, your chances of success go up greatly."
Still, the Cardinals recovered the onside kick and marched to the 37 before Rackers, who ended the first half by getting into a face mask tug-of-war with cornerback Carlos Rogers after the blocked extra point, nearly ended the game with a winning kick.