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Disappointment in the Desert

Posted Dec 12, 2010

Turnovers and a fourth-quarter burst by the Cardinals helped send Denver to its 10th loss of the season.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, it seemed as if all the change at Dove Valley this week would translate to the field.

For the fourth time in five games, the Broncos got off to a fast start. Kyle Orton completed five of his first eight passes as Denver drove for a 32-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka, and the defense held the Cardinals to 10 net yards and zero first downs in the first quarter.

But the first game of Interim Head Coach Eric Studesville's tenure ended the same way seven of the previous eight games have -- with a loss -- as the Cardinals defeated the Broncos, 43-13.

"We got beat by a team that showed more energy, more will and wanted it a little more than we did today," Mario Haggan said. "It showed."

Arizona took the field with its third starting quarterback of the season, rookie John Skelton, and the 22-year-old took a while to get started.

He threw just one completion in the first quarter and finished the first half with nine completions for 79 yards.

But the defense helped his cause by forcing six Broncos turnovers, and Jay Feely and the Cardinals special teams unit had his back.

The veteran kicker scored Arizona's first 22 points, including field goals of 23, 36, 48, 49 and a career-high 55 yards.

But the highlight of Feely's day came on a field goal attempt in the second quarter with the Cardinals leading 6-3. Instead of kicking it, he took a pitch on a fake field goal, running in for a 5-yard score before tacking on the point after his own touchdown.

"That definitely hurts, because the defense has been playing well all day, then they jump up and run a fake field goal and get seven points, it's like, 'Man,'" Champ Bailey said. "It sucks the life out of you. But regardless of what happens you've still got to strap it up the next play and keep moving."

While Feely's fake gave the Cardinals some momentum, the Broncos defense refused to let it become a turning point in the game.

The unit held Arizona out of the end zone into the fourth quarter and forced three fumbles -- recovering one -- to keep the game within two possessions late in the final frame.

But the offense couldn't muster many scoring opportunities, as the team committed six turnovers -- three fumbles and three interceptions -- that made it tough to keep a rhythm offensively.

"We turned the football over, which we knew going into the game was one of our keys," Orton said. "We didn't want to turn the football over and give these guys a short field. I thought the defense played hard and offensively, we didn't give us a chance to win."

Orton suffered a rib injury in the third quarter and Tim Tebow began warming up on the sideline, but the quarterback did not miss a snap and finished the game with 166 passing yards.

The offense's lone touchdown came after a pass interference penalty late in the fourth quarter gave the Broncos a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Knowshon Moreno -- who ran for 81 yards on 19 carries -- plunged the final yard into the end zone. It cut the score to 29-13, but Arizona closed out the game with a Tim Hightower touchdown and a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Hauschka, who was signed by the Broncos on Sunday after Matt Prater didn't make the trip with a right groin injury, was 2-of-3 on the day to account for the rest of Denver's points.

Even with the offensive struggles, Denver was still in the game in the fourth quarter -- but Arizona eventually seized the contest, scoring 24 points in the final frame.

"We really held up strong the whole game until the end," Justin Bannan said. "We just didn't get the breaks we needed, and that was the way it went."

Cardinals running back Tim Hightower gained 100 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter, and his 148-yard, two-touchdown performance allowed Skelton to get his feet under him and control the offense. The rookie threw for just 146 yards and no touchdowns, but he also didn't throw an interception, something that stood out to Bailey.

"He struggled early, he made some throws here and there, but I've got to give him credit," Bailey said. "They ran the ball effectively and he made the throws when he had to. He didn't make mistakes, so I've got to give him credit for that."

The loss dropped the Broncos to 3-10.

"For whatever reason, everything went wrong that could've went wrong, and it kind of sums up our season," Bannan said. "It's been one of those years. It's not for a lack of effort on our end. Guys came out and fought, played as hard as they could, just for whatever reason it's been one of those years."

Studesville said he and the rest of the coaching staff will "evaluate everything, top to bottom," to try to help the team get back in the win column as the season nears its end.

The club has three games remaining -- a trip to Oakland is up next on the schedule followed by two consecutive home games against Houston and San Diego to close the season.

Studesville's message to the team after the loss revolved around getting back to work, and the players said there's still something to play for.

"I think at the end of the day this game is about pride," said Andre Goodman, who returned to the starting lineup Sunday. "We're all grown men, and this is a game of mental toughness. It's just about at the end of the day staying together and playing for each other. As minimal as that sounds, it's a big deal to everyone in this locker room."