Undoubtedly, the team had witnessed the beating the Cowboys put on the Redskins in Washington and at some point probably shuddered when thinking about this week's visit.
There was reason for hope, however, as players with lingering injuries had a chance to heal up and enjoy a week of rest. Not to mention that Arizona Head Coach Dennis Green anticipated that Warner would miss at least some playing time and intensified the preparation process for QB John Navarre. Throw in the fact that the starting QB would get an extra week of rest due to the minor knee injury, and things might actually be looking up for the Cardinals despite this week's tough opponent.
Although the coaching staff had put in extra time to get Navarre ready during the two weeks they had between contests, it wasn't evident on the playing field early on. The Cardinals opened the game on their own 20 following the touchback and proceeded to wilt immediately. LB/DE DeMarcus Ware drew first blood when his first-play blitz brought him face-to-face with RB Edgerrin James just as the running back was taking the handoff. Luckily, James was able to hold on to the ball despite momentarily losing the handle. Two incompletions later – one of which being a sure INT for TD dropped by CB Terrance Newman in the left flat – and the punting unit was on.
The Cardinals defense answered the call quite nicely as they held off the potent Dallas offense for most of the first quarter, until WR Terrell Owens burned both CB David Macklin and FS Robert Griffith, who were double-covering on a 47-yard TD strike from QB Drew Bledsoe. The defense kept up the level of play even after that deflating score. Starting in the second quarter defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergast, began sending SS Adrian Wilson on a barrage of blitzes. Wilson, who is arguably the best blitzing safety in the game, had recent made remarks in the media about his unhappiness with how he's been used this season. Apparently, the coaching staff heard, loud and clear. He would be sent on 7 blitzes in the final 3 quarters, producing 2 sacks and 2 hurries.
As successful as the Cardinal defense was in the first 3 quarters, the Cowboy defense still played just a little better. The constant blitzing combined with an extremely versatile and confusing 3-4 alignment caused the entire Redbird offense to discombobulate. Even the Pro Bowl WR tandem of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were forced into mental mistakes, as neither was able to read to the defenses well enough to recognize impending blitzes. This caused the receivers to continue on routes they needed to break off on and on 3 separate occasions, Navarre ended up throwing INTs because of the receivers' confusion. He also threw another INT without the aid of any teammates' errors. He had TE Leonard Pope wide open near the Dallas goal line early in the 4th, but was picked off by LB/DE Greg Ellis when he launched a wobbly duck towards the pair.
As for the Cowboys' offense, they were held in check until the 9:36 mark in the 4th, when their relentless rushing tandem of RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber finally began to reap benefits after tiring the front four of the Redbird D. Jones rushed for 67 yards in the 4th alone (finishing with 146 on 18 carries) and Barber finished the contest with 93 yards on 11 carries and a TD.
The silver lining in this meltdown was that by the time the two-minute warning had rolled around, there were very few starters remaining on the field and Arizona fans were finally able to see their QB of the future in action. QB Matt Leinart only completed 1 of 3 passes, but did look sharp as both incompletions were drops. All things considered, he still had a better day than John Navarre, who completed 11-29 passes for 101 yards and 4 INT, and Edgerrin James who had a season-low 39 yards on 14 carries.
Cardinals lose 17-0.
The Cardinals will be welcoming back Kurt Warner with open arms for their next opponent, the Detroit Lions, who enter the game with a surprising 5-4 mark. Most pundits had the Lions at the bottom of the divisional race, but they are currently trailing division leaders Chicago and Minnesota by only one game. The Cardinals know that their highly-touted offense will need to deliver in order for them to have any shot of a playoff spot. After this contest, the Redbirds face two on the road, so its critical to pick up the final November home game before the homestretch, where they will face all three divisional rivals.