The Arizona Cardinals have pulled off what was nearly unthinkable just weeks ago and are headed to Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, FL. After getting throttled 48-20 by the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving night, the Cardinals returned the favor en route to a 32-25 win in the NFC Championship game.
Arizona jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead, but lost ground in the second half as the Eagles catapulted to a 25-24 fourth quarter lead. Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb hooked up with WR DeSean Jackson on a 62-yard touchdown pass giving the Eagles a one-point advantage. However, the lead was short lived as the Cardinals managed to rebound for the victory.
QB Kurt Warner had a tremendous regular season and has continued to excel during this postseason. He completed 21-of-28 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns. After an eight-year absence, Warner returns to the game’s biggest stage as Arizona now begins its preparation for Super Bowl XLIII.
As if WR Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t accomplished enough during his spectacular five-year career, he can now be labeled as a clutch postseason performer. He torched the Eagles’ secondary, reeling in nine passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns. Fitzgerald has compiled 23 catches for 419 yards and five touchdowns during the Cardinals’ three-game playoff run. WR Anquan Boldin returned to action after missing last week’s game against the Carolina Panthers and totaled 34 yards on four receptions.
WR Larry Fitzgerald
The Arizona running game was non-existent for the majority of the regular season, but has been outstanding throughout the playoffs. RB Edgerrin James continued his resurgence, leading the team in rushing with 73 yards on 16 carries. RB Tim Hightower also got into the action, carrying 11 times for 33 yards. Hightower’s greatest contribution came in the passing game as he scored the go-ahead touchdown on an 8-yard screen pass with under three minutes remaining in the game.
Although he nearly rallied Philadelphia to victory, McNabb's struggles continue in the NFC Championship game. The Eagles have reached five of the last eight conference title games but have advanced just once with a Super Bowl berth on the line. McNabb was harassed by Clancy Pendergast’s aggressive game plan all afternoon, suffering two sacks and a lost fumble. He completed 28-of-47 passes for 375 yards and connected on three touchdown passes but was unable to convert on Philadelphia’s final drive.
The Cardinals’ defense has been a turnover machine during the postseason and was no different on Sunday. SS Aaron Francisco picked off McNabb during the first half and SS Adrian Wilson forced a fumble that was recovered by DE Bertrand Berry early in the third quarter. Wilson was a force to be reckoned with throughout the game as he led the team with seven tackles and two sacks. The Cardinals now have 12 takeaways during the postseason while they’ve turned it over on just three occasions.
Arizona’s opponent on Feb. 1 in Tampa will be a familiar one for head coach Ken Whisenhunt as the Cardinals square off against his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the AFC Championship game and will make the trip down south to the Sunshine State.
Brad Wilbricht can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org