Plummer, Cards Closer To Playoffs


Maybe the Arizona Cardinals are good enough for the playoffs. Any team with Jake Plummer at quarterback has a chance.

Plummer led the Cardinals on another last-minute desperation drive, setting up Chris Jacke's final-play, 36-yard field goal to give Arizona a 19-17 victory against the New Orleans Saints Sunday.

"We showed them all over again that it's never over," Plummer said.

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  • The Cardinals (8-7), who last made the playoffs in the 1982 strike season after a 5-4 record while playing in St. Louis, can claim the final NFC wild-card berth with a home victory against the San Diego Chargers next Sunday.

    The Cardinals haven't been to the playoffs in a non-strike year since 1975.

    The loss eliminated the Saints (6-9) from contention, leaving only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Giants alive in the conference. If the Cardinals lose, they can still make the playoffs if Philadelphia beats the Giants. The Buccaneers advance if they and the Giants win and Arizona loses.

    Plummer passed for 394 yards and threw the final block to spring Adrian Murrell on a 21-yard scoring run -- Arizona's only touchdown -- with 8:16 left in the third quarter.

    The

    Adrian Murrell
    Cardinals running back Adrian Murrell helped lead the Cardinals past the Saints Sunday. (AP)
    victory was Plummer's eighth in 10 games when Arizona was tied or trailing in the fourth quarter during the last two seasons. He directed the 73-yard drive in the final 1:16, hitting Frank Sanders with passes of 25 and 28 yards and scrambling for 21 yards on another play.

    Before his game-winner, Jacke had three field goals, from 21, 38 and 46 yards, and missed a 51-yard attempt in the first quarter.

    But safety Tommy Bennett, part of a defense that sacked Kerry Collins five times, said he wasn't worried when Jacke lined up for the final attempt.

    "We could have been on a sofa at home, watching soaps and game shows tomorrow," Bennett said. "But Chris Jacke, he's a proven veteran. He's been to the playoffs, he's been to the Super Bowl, he's experienced kicking under pressure."

    Said Arizona coach Vince Tobin: "There is tremendous character on this football team. They battle until the very end."

    Saints free safety Sammy Knight returned an interception 39 yards for a TD that gave the Saints a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. The teams exchanged field goals and the Saints held a 10-6 halftime lead.

    "I felt like we could stop them," New Orleans defensive end Joe Johnson said. "But if you don't cover people, you can't stop anybody."

    Knight recovered a fumble by Murrell on the Arizona 18-yard line with 12:28 left in the game. But Cardinals linebackers Mark Maddox and Jamir Miller stopped Lamar Smith for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the 9 to preserve a 13-10 Arizona lead.

    Saints coach Mike Ditka had no second thoughts about going for the touchdown.

    "You got a half-yard to go," he said. "If you can't make it, you don't deserve to win. We talked about this all year, fellows. I made the call. It wouldn't have made any difference. We were not going to win this game at the end. We went into a shell."

    Ditka might have been influenced by the Cardinals' Bernard Wilson blocking a 54-yard field goal attempt by Doug Brien, who made a 28-yarder as the first half ended.

    After Jacke's field goal with 6:48 to play gave the Cardinals a 16-10 lead, Collins took the Saints on a 14-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 13-yard TD pass to Cameron Cleeland. It was New Orleans' first offensive touchdown in more than nine quarters and gave it a 17-16 lead wth 1:21 left.

    But then the Cardinals second-year quarterback took over on his own 8 and led his team into position to win the game.

    The Cardinals had almost as many long drives (four) in the first half as the Saints had first downs (six), but had only two field goals to show for them. The Cardinals lost one TD when Sanders fumbled just before he crossed the goal line, and New Orleans safety Chad Cota recovered in the end zone.

    Notes

  • Murrell, acquired in a trade with the New York Jets, had 65 yards to bring his season total to 1,017 -- his third consecutive 1,000-yard season. Terry Allen , Eric Dickerson and Earnest Jackson are the only other players to run for 1,000 yards for different teams in consecutive seasons.
  • The Cardinals' last 1,000-yard rusher was Garrison Hearst in 1995.
  • The Saints fumbled three times, but lost only one -- Collins' 12th turnover in six games with New Orleans.
  • Wilson's block was only Brien's second failure in 22 attempts this season.
  • The loss was the first for New Orleans in five games when they led at halftime.

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