TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -When Antrel Rolle lost his starting job in training camp, he appeared a strong candidate for that loathsome list of NFL first-round flops.
Until one magnificent Sunday.
``He came out of the doghouse,'' teammate Darnell Dockett said, ``and he came out smokin'.''
Playing a roving mix of cornerback and safety, Rolle intercepted three passes, returning two for touchdowns, in Arizona's 35-27 victory at Cincinnati last weekend. He brought his third pick for a score, too, but it was called back by a penalty the Arizona players still are disputing.
No one in the NFL has ever returned three interceptions for a score in a single game.
``Once I get the ball in my hands, I definitely know what to do with it,'' Rolle said. ``I've been a punt returner my whole life. That's how I got recruited into college. It felt good to get the ball in my hands, and I'm looking forward to getting it some more.''
In Cincinnati last Sunday, Rolle picked off Carson Palmer in the first quarter and returned the ball 55 yards for Arizona's first score. In the waning seconds of the third quarter, he took one back 54 yards.
He knew he had to celebrate, and he instinctively chose a back flip. He made it, but is no candidate for the Olympic gymnastics team. Rolle landed off-balance on his feet, then fell to his back. His failure to stick the landing resulted in a $7,500 fine as well as a penalty: Anytime a player goes to the ground in a celebration, it's an automatic infraction.
``I haven't really practiced any end zone moves,'' Rolle said. ``Now that I've touched the paint a couple of times, I might go and practice some, something that won't get me a $7,500 fine.''
The third score, in the fourth quarter, was called back because of the shot Arizona's Antonio Smith gave Palmer as Rolle was racing downfield. Rules don't allow blocks on a quarterback in that situation unless he has made a move toward stopping the player with the ball.
Smith and his teammates swear Palmer took a step or two toward Rolle before being flattened by the big defensive end.
``I could have made history,'' Rolle said. ``It was a great block on Antonio's part. If the same play went down again, I told him to do it again.''
Dennis Green was entering his second season as Cardinals coach when the team made Rolle the No. 8 pick overall in the 2005 draft. He was the second cornerback chosen behind Adam ``Pacman'' Jones.
An All-American at Miami, Rolle was supposed to be the ``cover'' cornerback NFL teams covet.
A knee injury limited him to 11 games in his rookie season, five of them starts, then he started all 16 last season, when Arizona went 5-11 and Green was fired. He entered Sunday's game with two career interceptions.
New coach Ken Whisenhunt made it clear from the start that each player would be evaluated equally, with no special consideration to past high draft picks. Rolle found himself benched in favor of Rod Hood, signed as a free agent.
``It was a very tough time,'' Rolle said. ``Do I feel like I should have lost my job? Absolutely not. You look at all the corners in the league, I've given up three touchdowns the last two years.''
But Rolle kept working, playing as the fifth defensive back in ``nickel'' situations.
``You can either go in the tank or fight back,'' he said.
Then he offered a familiar mantra in the NFL: ``Tough times, they never last, but tough people do.''
Whisenhunt noticed Rolle's attitude.
``I'm sure it's always disappointing not to be the starter when you feel like you're a starter, but sometimes that kind of drive in a player is what makes them become even better,'' Whisenhunt said. ``The biggest thing that I'm most impressed with in Antrel is his focus in practice.''
With Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson out with a knee injury, defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast began using Rolle as the kind of roving, playmaking defender that Wilson was, sometimes sliding him back into a safety position.
``At the University of Miami, I played a lot of inside cornerback, so it's definitely comfortable for me,'' Rolle said. ``Just run and make plays. When you get the opportunity to make the best play you can, just run to the ball.''
Rolle followed a strong performance the previous week by linebacker Karlos Dansby, who had two interceptions in Arizona's victory over Detroit. Between them, Rolle and Dansby have six interceptions in the last two games. They are major reasons the Cardinals are 5-5 for the first time since 1998 and are just one game out of first place in the NFC West.
Rolle still hasn't got the starting job, but he has pushed that issue aside. He knows he's shown he deserves plenty of playing time in a role that could be crucial to Arizona down the stretch.
``You can't be bitter,'' Rolle said. ``My own personal feelings are always going to be there, but at the same time I'm out here to make plays and help out the team. ...
``I'm not a player to sit and pout or even whine and complain in those situations. It's adversity, everyone has to go through it.''

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