WR Larry Fitzgerald was also a scratch for this match-up as he turned his ankle in practice on Friday and was unable to put his full weight on it during pre-game workouts. These absences would not provide an excuse for the team as Minnesota was still reeling from the loss of their starting QB, Brad Johnson. The Vikings' replacement, QB Mike McMahon, was familiar with this situation, having been thrust into the starting job after Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb went down last season when McMahon was the backup there. Many in the Minnesota media questioned the decision, believing that 3rd-string QB J.T O'Sullivan to be the best option to start this one, but with McMahon's experience in head coach Brad Childress' offense, it was a no-brainer that he would start.
Even with the injuries the Redbirds had sustained, it was fairly obvious from the beginning that the Arizona offense would have no problems handling the Minnesota defense. QB Kurt Warner picked up where he left off last week, throwing once again with accuracy and authority. RB Marcel Shipp, starting for the first time this season, was also on his game in this one right from the start. On the first play from scrimmage, Shipp took the handoff on a draw play and ran for 38 yards and into Vikings territory. From there, the drive became the Leonard Pope Show. On a play that looked like the offense was trying to go deep, Warner was forced to check down to the tight end for a short dump pass that Pope turned into a spectacular play that got the Cards inside the Minnesota 10. After receiving the pass, he turned head-on into LB E.J. Henderson, quickly knocking him to the ground, then 15 yards downfield, applied the same brute force to SS Tank Williams with the same result. He was finally brought down by three Vikings defenders at the 7. On the very next play, Warner again found the powerful tight end in the corner of the endzone for the opening-drive TD.
On the ensuing kickoff, KR Mewelde Moore looked the part of a Tulane product, fumbling the ball away after being leveled by LB Brandon Johnson, who also made the recovery at the Minnesota 33. This time, the Cardinals leaned on Shipp, who took 4 consecutive handoffs to bring the offense down to the 11. With WR Anquan Boldin mired in a tight double-team due to Fitzgerald's absence, Warner found WR Bryant Johnson wide open in the endzone for the second Redbird TD, making it a quick 14-0 start.
Minnesota's offense was anemic at best throughout the first half and did not mount a serious drive until they were began their 2-minute gameplan. It began on their own 28 and behind some solid throwing by McMahon, moved inside the Arizona 20. As was the case all day, though, that success was short-lived. Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes converged behind the line to lay a vicious blow on RB Chester Taylor, who lost the handle and fumbled the ball away as DT Darnell Dockett picked up the gift. The teams headed into halftime with the score 17-0 Arizona and would remain that way until the 4th.
After an uneventful 3rd period in which the Vikings could not get their offense into gear and the Cardinal offense that was seemingly dedicated to running the ball and the clock, the 4th started off with a bang. Predictably, Leonard Pope was again the man making the splash. With Minnesota in a blitz-formation, Warner called for Pope to run a hot route in which he simply turned around when the ball was snapped. As expected, the Vikings brought the house and Warner waited until the last moment to dump the ball off to Pope, taking a hard shot from CB Antoine Winfield as he did. At that point, the big tight end just turned and ran to paydirt, shedding linebackers Chad Greenway and Napoleon Harris on his way. Pope would finish with 8 catches for 112 yards and 2 TD, while Warner had another fine performance on 22-33 passing for 289 yards. Shipp added 113 yards on 26 carries.
The Minnesota offense never really got anything going and would not score until midway through the final period. Even that was a disappointment. After mounting a 57-yard drive, McMahon found WR Koren Robinson open in the endzone on blown coverage for an apparent TD, however that was negated by OL Artis Hicks' holding penalty. They would have to settle for a FG and would not cross midfield for the duration of the ball game.
Cardinals win 27-3.
The Redbirds begin their second round of divisional play on the road at St. Louis and hope to have the services of James and Fitzgerald. With both teams at 7-4 and in second-place in the division, this game is the most crucial the Cardinals have played this season. A win would essentially give them a two-game lead on the Rams, having won the earlier meeting this year. A loss would mean a tougher path into the playoffs, but for the first time since the 1999 campaign, it appears that the Cardinals will control their own post-season destiny.