GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ken Whisenhunt will admit it now. This game meant a little more than usual to Arizona's first-year coach.
So imagine his joy as the Cardinals "out-Steelered" Pittsburgh in a rugged 21-14 stunner of his old team Sunday.
Rookie Steve Breaston returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown, and Arizona's defense shut down Pittsburgh's high-scoring offense most of the day to hand the Steelers their first loss.
"It's obviously a special win for me to beat the Steelers," Whisenhunt said, "but I don't have any animosity toward that football team. . . . The thing that I'm the proudest about is that our football team beat a good football team that nobody gave us a chance to do."
Breaston's burst up the middle for the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter was the Cardinals' first punt return for a touchdown in 14 years. It came after the initial Pittsburgh punt was called back by one of the Steelers' 11 penalties.
"I kind of felt it coming," the speedster from Michigan said. "I've started feeling comfortable back there."
The Cardinals (2-2) ended Willie Parker's string of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games, limiting him to 37 yards in 18 carries.
"That had all the makings of a typical loss," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "by that I mean we weren't able to run the ball successfully, the turnovers that we acquired, we gave up a big play and we had way too many penalties. When you do that, you lose."
Arizona sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times, three by Darnell Dockett, and intercepted him twice, once by Adrian Wilson when Pittsburgh was third-and-goal at the 2.
"I think all week, even people in my family, they wouldn't give us a chance," Dockett said. "And I took it to heart and kind of personally."
The Steelers rallied behind Roethlisberger, whose second TD pass to Santonio Holmes, a 7-yarder, cut it to 21-14 with 1:49 to play.
However, Larry Fitzgerald recovered the onside kick attempt for Arizona. The Steelers got the ball one last time at their 9 with 46 seconds to play. They made it to the 40, but Dockett sacked Roethlisberger, then Ralph Brown intercepted to seal the victory.
The first interception was the one that really hurt, though.
"This loss is on me," Roethlisberger said. "I can't throw a pick in the end zone. The defense gives you an opportunity, and you throw it away. It's disappointing. It's frustrating. You feel like you let guys down."Whisenhunt and top assistant Russ Grimm both were leading contenders to replace Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh after last season. Whisenhunt was the Steelers' offensive coordinator and Grimm was the assistant head coach and offensive line coach at the time.
Instead the job went to outsider Tomlin. Whisenhunt and Grimm headed for the desert. There were hugs all around before the game, then came a hard-hitting defensive fight.
Whisenhunt felt that, in some ways, the players were winning one for him.
"I got more of a sense of that after the game," he said. "I felt like it was a little bit of an unspoken thing. I feel good about the chemistry we have on our football team, and they are very focused on one goal. They feel like they are heading in the right direction, and I feel very humble that they would take that approach."
Whisenhunt's two-quarterback offense worked well enough. Kurt Warner replaced starter Matt Leinart and, running a no-huddle offense, directed the tying touchdown drive in the third quarter. Leinart returned in the fourth quarter and led Arizona on a 13-play, 82-yard touchdown drive capped by Edgerrin James' 2-yard scoring run that made it 21-7 with 4:14 to play.
Leinart threw 38 yards to Fitzgerald on the first play of his return. Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 123 yards.
The return to the game was a boost of confidence to Leinart.
"I sat out the whole third quarter and then came back in the fourth probably in the most important part of the game," Leinart said, "and we responded as an offense on a key drive."
The Steelers were without two key defensive starters: safety Troy Polamalu (abdominal strain) and nose tackle Casey Hampton (hamstring injury).
Tomlin said he wasn't sure how serious the injuries were.
"We will never use injuries as an excuse," he said.
The Steelers' first-quarter touchdown came on third-and-26 when Roethlisberger threw 43 yards to Holmes, who had six catches for 128 yards.
Both teams were without top receivers because of injuries, Arizona's Anquan Boldin and Pittsburgh's Hines Ward.