11
Jan
09

The Arizona Cardinals’ Chip

The Arizona Cardinals were used to playing with a chip on their shoulder.

Going into their playoff game against the Carolina Panthers, the Cardinals had been counted out by virtually every NFL expert, announcer, and commentator. They had been called the worst playoff team in the history of the game. They said that there was no way the Cards could stop the Panthers’ high powered running attack. The was little hope for the in-over-their-head Cardinals, but then the game was played.

The first Carolina drive of the night was the only time where the team showed any vital signs. Stellar running back DeAngelo Williams broke off for a 31-yard sprint to However, there was little life from the Panthers after that point. They didn’t score again until there was less than a minute left in the fourth quarter.

To neutralize the Panthers’ running attack, the Cardinals knew they had to make Jake Delhomme pass the ball. What better way to do that than jumping to a 27-7 first half lead? This put the ball in Delhomme’s hands nearly every play of the game, and subsequently to the Arizona defense after it left his hands. The Cardinals picked off five of Delhomme’s passes including 3 when the Panthers were in scoring range. Every time he took off his helmet, Delhomme’s eyes were up to the scoreboard and a look of despair crossed his face. He completed just 17 passes for 205 yards with a QB rating of only 39.1, nearly 50 points off his regular season average.

Jake Delhomme

Jake Delhomme

Because the Panthers needed to throw the ball in order to have a chance of getting back into the game, their best player of the regular season, Williams, was not able to get the touches he needed to be effective. After a season of over 1500 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, Williams carried the ball 12 times for 63 yards and didn’t see the end-zone all night. More than half of his total rushing yards came on their opening drive. Steve Smith, their leader in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns, was a non-factor in this game. He didn’t catch a ball until the last minute of the third quarter and finished the game with just two.

DeAngelo Williams had trouble getting anything started on the ground after the first drive of the game.

DeAngelo Williams had trouble getting anything started on the ground after the first drive of the game.

For an Arizona team who made the playoffs largely because of their offense, it was the defense that made last n84105832JM104_Arizona_Cardiight’s win possible. Though the yard totals of both rushing and passing were close to their season averages, the Panthers put up just 13 points (only 7 of which I count) against a defense ranked 28th in the NFL. They forced six Carolina turnovers and stopped the Panthers on six of eight third down attempts. As well as their defense played, their offense wasn’t anything to be taken lightly, either.

Three-time Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin did not suit up to play in the game but that did not end up being a problem. Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns, came to play. And play he did. Fitzgerald caught six passes for 152 yards and a touchdown. In the first half. Who exactly was the Carolina defense covering in the secondary all-night?

Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald

Maybe most of the credit for their trip to the NFC Championship Game should go to Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner is the only player in their locker room would had won a Super Bowl before. He’s the only one to have 84105832JM095_Arizona_Cardiwon two playoff games in the same season before this one. Like the Cardinals, Warner had been written off by nearly everyone in the NFL community, including myself, since his last stint in St. Louis and the famous “Greatest Show on Turf”. He’s too old, his throws have lost their touch and zip, he’s washed up. It’s hard to imagine how a season of 4500 passing yards, 30 touchdown passes, and a QB rating of nearly 97 translates to “washed up”. Warner has heard it before, and he’s been hearing it for years. He just keeps playing.

Last night, Warner threw two touchdown passes in the first half on his way to a total of 221 yards, completing nearly two-thirds of his passes. He was calm, composed, collected, and focused. His leadership was pivotal as the Cardinals overcame a week of talk about how Carolina would dismantle their team with little opposition.

So what did this game teach us? For one thing, it taught us that no matter what the odds are, the game must be played. And in those 60 minutes of football anything can happen. Another thing it taught us is maybe Mr. Warner isn’t as washed up as originally thought. Maybe there is something left in the tank. Maybe he does have something left to prove. I do know one thing for sure, though – never underestimate a team playing with a chip on their shoulder.

84105832JM105_Arizona_Cardi

A. Martin

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1 Response to “The Arizona Cardinals’ Chip”


  1. 1 Helen
    January 14, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Hi Alex,
    Thanks for your blog. You’re a good writer. I just saw an exciting bit on Fanster. A contest to win tickets to the game. Wanted to pass it along…

    http://phoenix.fanster.com/2009/01/14/if-you-dont-have-tickets-to-sundays-nfc-championship-game-here-is-your-chance/

    Helen.


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