AZ Will Take Sunday's Numbers Any Day

Kurt Warner and Ken Whisenhunt

The Cardinals didn't use the words "moral victory" to describe their 27-23 loss at Carolina Sunday, but they came awfully close. After struggling for years on the road, the players were encouraged by their performance. Even though the club blew a 17-3 third-quarter lead, the Cardinals felt they proved they could play with the best teams in the NFC by narrowly losing to the Panthers.

"I hate to lose, and no moral victories, but we played with an intensity today against a good football team that I haven't seen this team play with since I've been here," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "If we can bottle this up and we can take it with us on the road the rest of the year, we're going to win some football games and we're going to be a tough team to beat."

Despite the loss, the Cardinals maintained their two-game lead in the NFC West. They haven't played a division game since the season opener at San Francisco, but they now have three straight: at St. Louis, home against the 49ers and in Seattle.

Scoring points shouldn't be a problem for the Cardinals. They gained 425 yards and scored 23 against the Panthers, one of the NFC's best defensive teams. Warner has been brilliant, looking a lot like he did in St. Louis when he won MVP awards with the Rams in 1999 and 2001.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has shown great flexibility in recognizing Warner's strengths, and allowing coordinator Todd Haley to design game plans that take advantage of those strengths.

Warner completed 35 of 49 passes for 381 yards against the Panthers, as the Cardinals went to their spread formations almost exclusively in the second half.

They rushed the ball just five times in the second half. Asked about his club's running game afterward, Whisenhunt defended the team's offensive direction.

"Well, we had 400 yards of offense," Whisenhunt said. "We scored 23 points against the No. 3 defense in the league. I'll take that any week."

What should be of greater concern to the Cardinals is the spotty play of their defense. The Cardinals led the Panthers 17-3, early in the third quarter, but they yielded three touchdowns in the third quarter alone.

They especially are having a hard time getting offenses off the field in the fourth quarter. That's happened in road losses at Washington and Carolina.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are a good team and I think everybody knows that. For us to go from a good team to a great team, we have to win these games." -- WR Anquan Boldin, on the close loss to Carolina.

UNDER THE RADAR: Don't be surprised if rookie running back Tim Hightower shares carries almost equally with Edgerrin James for the rest of the season. In the last two weeks, his numbers have been almost equal to James' (16-13). Coaches know that Hightower has more of a burst than James, whose strength is his agility and vision. James can keep the chains moving, but Hightower has more ability to make big plays.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--TE Leonard Pope missed Sunday's game with ankle and foot injuries. Pope hasn't looked 100 percent since suffering a dislocated ankle and fracture late last year. He was wearing a walking boot at the end of last week.

--TE Ben Patrick hasn't played since suffering a knee injury Oct. 5 against Buffalo.

--WR Anquan Boldin picked up where he left off before suffering a facial injury against the Jets last month. Boldin missed two games but returned with a vengeance, catching nine passes for 63 yards, including two touchdowns.

--CB Rod Hood is starting to draw the toughest assignments. In the past two games, he has defended the Cowboys' Terrell Owens and the Panthers' Steve Smith. Hood was exceptional against Owens, but Smith scored two touchdowns.

--OLB Karlos Dansby had a sack against the Panthers, giving the Cardinals at least one sack in 30 consecutive games. That's the longest such streak in the league.

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