WR Larry Fitzgerald (Getty)
The 2009 playoffs are beginning to take the same path as last season. Although it was much closer than a year ago, the Arizona Cardinals prevailed in the wild-card round in a game they weren’t necessarily expected to win. Now, the Cardinals hit the road to battle the favorite in the NFC. If history repeats itself, Arizona might leave the Big Easy with a victory and shot to reign as NFC champs.
A new trend is taking form in the desert: the Arizona Cardinals find a way to win in the playoffs. Just a handful of years ago, this notion would be virtually unthinkable to any logical NFL fan. The mere thought of Arizona even making the postseason would be a long-shot at best, let alone substantial playoff runs in back-to-back seasons. But contrary to popular belief, that’s right where the Cardinals stand as they prepare to take on the New Orleans Saints.
Arizona knocked off arguably the hottest team in the league on Sunday, downing the Green Bay Packers in a game for the ages. The Cardinals’ resiliency continues to carry the long-time losing franchise as they squandered a three touchdown lead only to prevail courtesy of their defense. After being shredded for just under 500 yards of total offense and 32 first downs, LB Karlos Dansby clinched the 51-45 win after returning a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown in overtime.
Although Arizona nearly fell victim to the Packers’ tremendous offensive attack, the Cardinals accomplished the necessary goals heading into their initial task of this year’s playoffs. It’s hard to believe a defense that allowed 45 points played halfway decent but there’s a legitimate argument for defensive coordinator Bill Davis’ group. Arizona forced three turnovers – including the game-winning fumble recovery for a touchdown –and sacked Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers five times.
Meanwhile on offense, the Cardinals established the running game and provided QB Kurt Warner with a clean pocket throughout the afternoon. Arizona’s offensive line must be commended as it routinely opened holes up front in the ground game and held its ground in pass protection. Beanie Wells maintained his strong finish to the regular season, racking up 91 yards on 14 carries and Tim Hightower added seven carries for 19 yards. Hightower also managed to find the end zone on the Cardinals’ first offensive possession.
RB Beanie Wells
Since Warner took over as the full-time starter prior to last season, Arizona’s passing game has been nearly unstoppable. Sunday’s performance against the Packers confirmed that status and might have been the team’s best outing in the last two years. Warner was nearly flawless completing 29-of-33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns. He connected with seven different receivers and made the loss of Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin seem miniscule.
In Boldin’s absence, wideouts Steve Breaston and Early Doucet picked up the slack. Breaston led the Cardinals with seven grabs for 125 yards and scored on a 17-yard touchdown strike late in the fourth quarter. Doucet reached paydirt twice, hauling in six passes for 77 yards in the process. As always, WR Larry Fitzgerald was a major factor through the air, scoring on two occasions while totaling 82 receiving yards on six catches.
While Arizona will certainly enter next week’s contest against New Orleans as an underdog, the same recipe that propelled them past Green Bay could prove effective in the Big Easy. The likelihood of shutting down Saints QB Drew Brees and company is far-fetched, but wreaking havoc on Brees in the pocket and forcing turnovers could allow the Cardinals to upset New Orleans on its home turf.
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