(AP) — Coach Ken Whisenhunt challenged the offense to get the running game going. Boy, did they.
No one in the long history of the Cardinals franchise has gained more yards in a game than Beanie Wells did in Sunday's 23-20 victory at St. Louis. His 228 yards in 27 attempts broke the franchise mark of 214 in 21 carries set by LeShon Johnson at New Orleans in1996.
Then there's Patrick Peterson, who took a punt back 80 yards for a touchdown. That ties an NFL record with four punt returns for scores, and the phenomenal Arizona rookie still has five games to go. He shares the mark with Devin Hester of Chicago (2007), Rick Upchurch of Denver (1976) and Jack Christiansen (1951).
In a season where the Cardinals (4-7) have had little to cheer about, Sunday's performances have the team in a positive mood as it plays four of its last five at home, beginning next Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys come to town.
Whisenhunt also said he is "certainly a lot more optimistic" about finally getting quarterback Kevin Kolb back in the lineup this week. Kolb has missed four games with a turf toe and bruise to his right foot. He was able to work out some last week but did not suit up for the Rams. Arizona has won three of the four games Kolb has missed, but backup John Skelton has struggled, especially in the last two games.
"It's really going to depend on where he is Wednesday and as the week progresses," Whisenhunt said, "but he made enough progress last week that you feel good about him being able to do it this week."
Skelton completed 12 of 23 passes for 114 yards on Sunday. He was intercepted twice, although one came when his arm was hit as he threw. The Cardinals' 263 yards rushing, Peterson's punt return and another in a series of solid performances by the defense allowed the Cardinals to eke out their fourth victory of the season.
Wells' career game came despite a nagging sore right knee that has limited him in practice for weeks.
"Beanie is sore today and a little swelling, but not as bad as we thought it might be," Whisenhunt said at his Monday news conference, "so we'll see where he is Wednesday and hopefully he'll be able to do a little work in Wednesday's practice."
The ability of Wells, in his third season out of Ohio State, to perform at such a high level despite the injury is a sign of the running back's growing maturity, his coach said. Whisenhunt singled out an instance when Wells was hit hard and his knee bent backward. Wells was very slow to get up and went to the sidelines with the trainers.
"When he got his knee bent back, it looked horrible, and at that point, I'm sure most of us assumed that was it, he was done," Whisenhunt said, "because he was already fighting the knee. But to his credit, he fought through it, came back in, and had a couple of big runs. Kudos to Beanie. When you talk about trying to get players to understand the mentality of what it takes, it's great to see a young guy like Beanie make that progress."
Wells fumbled the ball on the play he was injured, leading to the Rams' game-tying touchdown. That, he said after the game, is what motivated him to come back.
"I knew that the team was going to need me," he said. "It was a critical game, and I was the one who put us in that situation when I lost the ball on the injury. I wanted to go back out there and not so much redeem myself but try to help us."
Wells had gained 20 yards in 10 attempts in Arizona's 19-13 overtime victory over the Rams three weeks ago, and the St. Louis players had been confident they could shut down the running game again and make Skelton beat them.
"People are pretty disgusted to get the ball run on us like that," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "Beanie got to the second level too much. He broke a tackle or two and was able to hit on really long runs. That's unacceptable."
In the first game against St. Louis, Peterson won it with his memorable 99-yard, tackle-busting, punt return. His 80-yard return on Sunday was the shortest of his four.
The Rams had kicked to the sidelines to try to minimize Peterson's options all day, but the one he returned was more toward the middle of the field. Still, he had to make a fingertip catch before dashing upfield. It's the kind of catch many returners would have muffed, but Whisenhunt said he wasn't even concerned.
""You have so much confidence in him catching the ball because of what you've seen him do that it doesn't really affect you very much," the coach said. "It's not like some guys, when you watch them trying to catch punts, especially in training camp, some of the guys you're looking at, you're holding your breath in some of these preseason games and saying just catch the ball. That's not something I've ever really worried about with Patrick."
The players were off on Monday and will resume practice on Wednesday.