13
Jan
10

wild-card weekend (part 3)

CARDINALS 51, PACKERS 45, OT – Best game of the weekend by far.  All 3 of the other games were basically over by halftime and this one was definitely headed that way with Arizona leading Green Bay 17-0 at the end of the first quarter.  But the Packers didn’t give up and to borrow from Bill Simmons, “[with] balls, heart, and resourcefulness” made a game of it.  The Packers, down 31-10 when they got the ball in the 3 rd quarter, could have easily folded up the tents.  But after a TD, a surprise onside kick (which they RECOVERED), and another TD, the score was 31-24 Cardinals with about 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.  At that point anyone who was watching had the feeling that the last team to have the ball was gonna win the game.  After trading TD’s to make it 38-31, Arizona had the ball with about 12 minutes left in the game.  For the only time in the second half, a defense held.  The Packers forced a punt and now all of a sudden Green Bay had an opportunity to tie the game.  They quickly cashed in (thanks to long completions to TE Jermichael Finley and WR Donald Driver) and with 10:57 to go, the game was all of a sudden tied at 38.  After a relatively boring and lackluster start to Wild-Card weekend, fans finally had a game with drama.  QB Kurt Warner (more on him shortly) led the Cardinals on a 6 minute TD drive to take the lead 45-38 only to see the Packers answer right back with a TD of their own to tie the score at 45.  With 1:52 left on the clock just about everybody expected Warner to lead the Cardinals to a game-winning score.  He did his part and with 9 seconds left the Cardinals lined up for a 34 yard chip shot field goal.  So of course what happens? K Neil Rackers MISSES THE FG!!  He’d only missed one FG from inside 40 yards ALL YEAR but in the biggest game of the season, he straight up shanks the game-winning kick.  Like most unbiased fans I was excited for overtime.  I figured because both defenses had done nothing of note in the 2nd half that whoever won the coin toss would probably win the game.  That prediction looked to be right on when on the first play of OT, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers ran a play-action pass and threw deep down the middle for WR Greg Jennings.  Jennings was WIDE OPEN and had his man beat and would’ve easily raced the length of the field for the game-winning TD…but RODGERS OVERTHREW HIM!!  Crazy stuff.  The ending 2 plays later was even more bizarre.  Cardinals CB Michael Adams comes untouched on a blitz of Rodgers who fumbles/passes the ball into the waiting arms of LB Karlos Dansby who grabs the ball and scampers 17 yards for the game-winning TD.  All that offense, all those yards, and all those points and the game ends on a DEFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN!! Absolutely nuts.  As crazy as the game turned out to be, a few things stood out:

  • WARNER IS THE MAN – As bad as Joe Flacco was in the Ravens’ victory, Warner was that good in the Cardinals’.  His stat line was ridiculous: 29 of 33 for 379 yards, 5 TD’s, and a passer rating of 154.1.  No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you – HE HAD MORE TD PASSES THAN INCOMPLETIONS!!  A truly remarkable performance by a truly remarkable QB.  Going into the weekend I was on the fence about his future Hall-of-Fame candidacy but after that performance Sunday night, there’s no doubt in my mind.  Kurt Warner BELONGS in the Hall-of-Fame.  Period.
  • FAVRE WHO? – Even in a losing effort, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers proved that he belongs among the elite QB’s in the NFL.  His stat line – 29 of 42 for 422 yards, 4 TD’s, a rushing TD, an INT, and a passer rating of 121.3 – though not as gaudy as Warner’s, was still as impressive as any we’ve seen in a while.  The fact that it came in a loss certainly isn’t a reflection of his play.  He, much like the rest of the team, could’ve gone in the tank early when they were down.  But like all great QB’s past & present, he rallied his troops around him, got them to fight back, and even had a legit shot to win the game.  You can’t ask anything more of your franchise QB.  Looks like the Green Bay front office knew what they were doing when they said goodbye to Brett Favre. 
  • PACKER TRIPLETS – Besides Aaron Rodgers, 2 other Packers players had fantastic days – WR Greg Jennings (8 catches, 130 yards, TD) and TE Jermichael Finley (6 catches, 159 yards).  Packer fans have got to be excited at the potential of these 3 guys next year.  People knew about Jennings because he was a Favre favorite in Favre’s final years, but nobody knew what to make of Finley.  They knew he had size and talent and skill but weren’t sure where it would lead.  As the year went on, Finley gained Rodgers trust and his emergence was definitely a factor in the Packers’ late season run.  With Rodgers, Jennings, and Finley, the Packers offense looks to be in very good hands. 
  • NO BOLDIN, NO PROBLEM – With Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin sidelined by injury, many people thought the Cardinals offense might suffer.  Apparently, their fears were COMPLETELY unfounded.  WR Steve Breaston filled in for Boldin earlier this year and did quite well so there was little doubt about him.  However, Sunday night’s game saw the emergence of WR Early Doucet.  Doucet, an LSU product, has been “in development” for quite some time but was basically the forgotten man amongst the WR’s (happens when you’re 4th on the depth chart).  Cameras even caught Kurt Warner chewing him out early in the game for screwing up a play.  Doucet rebounded quite nicely finishing with 6 catches for 77 yards and not one but TWO TD’s.  Add Breaston’s 7 catch, 125 yard, 1 TD performance and Larry Fitzgerald’s 6 catch, 82 yard, 1 TD performance and I’d say that the Cardinals offense didn’t really miss Anquan this weekend.  Makes you wonder if after the season Boldin might find himself on a new team.  His contract demands continue to be a pain the Cardinals’ ass and clearly their offense functions just fine without him. 

UP NEXT: THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS.  In what’s sure to be the divisional round game with the highest expectations, the Arizona Cardinals travel to New Orleans on Saturday to play the Saints.  Considering the Saints had the #1 offense in the league this year & the Cardinals just hung 51 points on the Packers, this game is fixing to be a shootout.  The Cardinals defense couldn’t stop the Packers offense last week and the Saints offense is even better than Green Bay’s.  The Saints defense wasn’t all that bad this year but it was by no means elite.  Teams were able to throw on the Saints’ secondary and had a lot of success moving the ball up and down the field.  For all of their early season success and talk of going undefeated, the Saints actually limped to the finish line losing their last 3 games by a combined score of 67-23.  The fact that 2 of those losses came at home and in games that the Saints were trying very hard to win should concern every Saints fan.  Arizona is a playoff-tested,veteran team peaking at the right time who won’t be fazed going into the Superdome, especially having watched the Buccaneers win there last month.  Despite the short week, Arizona has got to be feeling good about its chances.  The Saints haven’t won in over a month and history has shown that it’s very difficult for teams to just “turn it on” come playoff time.  While people think this will be the most exciting game of the year, games with the huge expectations like this one always seem to fail to live up to the hype.  I expect New Orleans to come out looking a little rusty & Arizona might even come out looking a little tired.  I hope it turns out to be the wild shoot-out we’d all like it to be, but I have my doubts.

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