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Third down 'for the ages' changed momentum in Cardinals' comeback win

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals ran 65 offensive plays Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, but just one changed the trajectory of the game for Arizona and led to a win in overtime.

With 8 minutes, 14 seconds left in the game and the Cardinals trailing 13-3, they faced third-and-20 from their own 18. It was the result of two straight negative plays: a sack that pushed Arizona back 6 yards and a pass to running back Andre Ellington on which he lost 4 yards.

Anything short of a first down, and Arizona would’ve punted. The Colts would’ve been near midfield and could’ve started running down the clock.

“Not a lot had gone our way up until that point,” Arizona tight end Troy Niklas said.

Then Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer hit Jaron Brown for a 22-yard pass. When the excitement of the play died down, a penalty flag lay on the field. Colts outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard was called for roughing the passer, adding another 15 yards to the end of the play.

In a matter of seconds, the Cardinals found themselves with a first down at the Colts' 45 and new life.

And the momentum, Brown said.

“We felt like it was a big swing in the game,” Niklas said. “Finally got a good first down coming our way. [We were thinking] we can beat these guys, but just got to keep at them. I feel like that play really propelled us through the rest of the game.

“I just feel like everybody just kind of got our confidence back a little bit. We’d just been taking blows all day, and finally we got a good punch in and started to roll with it.”

After the third-and-20, the Cardinals gained 135 yards of offense, about 35 percent of their total for the game -- in 7 minutes, 47 seconds.

Palmer hit J.J. Nelson for a 45-yard touchdown a play later. That cut the Colts' lead to 13-10 with half a quarter left.

“That kind of made it easy,” coach Bruce Arians said.

That’s when the momentum officially changed hands.

The Cardinals’ offense, dormant for three-and-a-half quarters, finally came to life. Arizona tied the game at 13 about four minutes later. After Phil Dawson missed a field goal at the end of regulation, making overtime necessary, he rebounded with a game winner.

By the time regulation ended, because of the shift in momentum, the Cardinals were still feeling confident, even though they kicked off to begin the extra period. A Colts touchdown would have ended the game.

“When we went into overtime, I didn’t feel like we were stressed at all,” Niklas said. “It was like, ‘We got these guys on their heels.’”

The third-and-20 conversion didn’t just change the energy on the field. It also sparked both the offense and defense.

“Everybody cranked it up a little bit,” Arians said. “There weren’t those big, negative plays after that.

“That third-and-20 was one for the ages.”