TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals don't always win when they trail at halftime. Yet every time they do win, it's been after trailing at the half.
And lately, they've been winning a lot.
The Cardinals made it four in a row and six out of seven in the usual fashion Sunday — beating the Cleveland Browns 20-17 in overtime. Arizona hasn't won this many in a row since 1999 and is at .500 (7-7) for the first time since week two of this season.
The Cardinals even have a longshot at making the playoffs with two games to go.
Following Sunday's win, team President Michael Bidwill presented Ken Whisenhunt the game ball for becoming the winningest coach in franchise history with 43 victories. That's a scene that was hardly anticipated when Arizona stood at 1-6 and had lost six in a row.
Through the bad times, and the public criticism that came with it, Whisenhunt stayed steady, insisting that the team would turn the corner. That happened when Calais Campbell blocked what would have been the game-winning field goal by the St. Louis Rams, then Patrick Peterson returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown in a 19-13 victory.
A victory at Philadelphia followed. The turnaround was derailed in a loss at San Francisco, then Arizona reeled off wins over St. Louis, Dallas, the 49ers and Cleveland. Every win had a hair-raising finish.
"In our seven wins, we've trailed at the half in all of those games," Whisenhunt said at his Monday news conference. "I don't like that. You'd rather have it the other way around. But, being able to make plays at the end of the games and win, that is all part of learning how to play together as a team and win games. That's something you have to do."
No matter the situation — and Arizona trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter against the Browns — the Cardinals have confidence they can come back.
"The guys stick together and they support each other," Whisenhunt said. "That's a big step in becoming a good football team."
A vastly improved defense gets the biggest share of credit for the turnaround, but the performance of backup quarterback John Skelton cannot be ignored. The big second-year pro from Fordham is 4-1 as a starter in place of injured Kevin Kolb, 5-1 if you count the win over San Francisco, when he came on after Kolb went out with a concussion on the third play of the game. Against the Browns, Skelton completed 28 of 46 — both career highs — for 313 yards with one TD and an interception.
Like the rest of the offense, Skelton starts slowly and comes on strong at the finish.
"As soon as the fourth quarter comes, he takes his cape off and he comes out there," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who probably meant Skelton puts his cape on a la Superman. "He makes throws, he scrambles, and he does whatever is necessary to get the victory. We know there is something special about the guy. He makes plays down the stretch.
"Everyone talks about Tim Tebow and his record as a starter, but you look at John's record and it's pretty good, too."
Whisenhunt was having nothing to do with any debate over whether Kolb should return as the starter if he's healthy enough to go. Whisenhunt said the decision was made to rest Kolb after he had a reaction to the noise and lights of the stadium on Sunday, indicating lingering symptoms of his concussion.
Kolb had been at the helm when Arizona rallied to beat Dallas in one of the Cardinals' three overtime victories in the last seven games.
"I understand that's a hot topic, that's a popular topic," Whisenhunt said, "but that's not something we're going to say or make any absolutes on right now, because we don't have to do that. We're focused on this game and who can play for us and who can win for us. I'm not trying to dodge your question or give you any insight one way or another. I really think it's important for us to stay focused on each week. That's what has worked for us."
With wins Saturday at Cincinnati then at home against Seattle on Jan. 1, the Cardinals would finish 9-7, their third winning season in the last four years.