GLENDALE, Ariz. - Fifteen quarterbacks were selected in the 2010 NFL draft. Max Hall wasn't one of them.
Six months later, in his debut as an NFL starter, he beat the reigning Super Bowl champions – with some luck and a lot of help from his defense.
The rookie from BYU, optimistically listed at 6-foot-1, survived some brutal hits to complete 17 of 27 passes for 168 yards, and the Arizona Cardinals upset the New Orleans Saints, 30-20, on Sunday.
Hall threw an interception that led to an early Saints field goal. He also fumbled twice, but both turned out to be key plays for Arizona (3-2). The first was run 2 yards by Cardinals tackle Levi Brown for a touchdown. Guard Alan Faneca pounced on the other for a 10-yard gain.
It was an uneven performance, but there was no doubt the extremely confident and ultra-competitive Hall earned the respect of his team.
“I need to fix my mistakes,” he said, “but I think those guys trust me and I think when they look at me they know we have a chance to win.”
Cardinals linebackers Paris Lenon and Joey Porter used the same phrase to describe their new starting quarterback: “just a tough little guy.”
Arizona’s defense, awful in a 41-10 loss at San Diego a week earlier, “deserves all the credit” for the win, Hall said.
The Cardinals intercepted Drew Brees three times and converted two turnovers by the Saints (3-2) into touchdowns. He had been picked off just twice in the first four games.
Kerry Rhodes returned Ladell Betts’ fumble 27 yards for a score and, with 10 seconds to play, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie returned an interception 28 yards for the clinching TD.
“We finally put a good effort together,” Rhodes said. “It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t pretty at times for us, but we played as complete a game as we’ve played so far.”
New Orleans outgained the Cardinals, 373-194.
Brees, who entered the game completing an NFL-best 74 percent of his passes with just two interceptions, threw for two touchdowns.
His 35-yard TD pass to Robert Meachem cut Arizona’s lead to 23-20 with 1:49 left. But Larry Fitzgerald, who caught seven passes for 93 yards, recovered the onside kick for Arizona.
New Orleans had one final shot, getting the ball at its 9-yard line with 24 seconds to play. But Rodgers-Cromartie picked off Brees’ pass and weaved through would-be tacklers for the final score.
Even though they have been blown out at Atlanta and San Diego, the Cardinals enter their bye week alone atop the NFC West, which they’ve won the last two seasons. The difference this year is they are without Kurt Warner, who was in the broadcast booth as a Fox analyst.
Ken Whisenhunt called it one of the most satisfying victories in his three-plus seasons as Arizona coach. He sees better days ahead.
“We didn’t run the ball as we have been today and that’s because they tried to stop the run and make us beat them throwing the football,” Whisenhunt said. “I’m not scared to do that with Max. We’re going to be able to expand on our offense, do more things, as Max gets more comfortable with it, which is going to make it harder to defend us. So I see us evolving. I think today was just the tip of the iceburg.”
NFC WEST STANDINGS
Arizona plays Seattle at Qwest Field on Oct. 24, 1:05 p.m.