Last Saturday’s (1/3) Showdown in the Desert Why the Sports Media Looks Silly Most of the Time

By PFC Cardinals Staff Writer Laura Healy

Quarterback Matt Ryan came to the line and checked the Cardinals defense before calling for the snap. He saw the defense set up to stop the run. It was a little humid on the field because the Arizona Cardinals closed the roof, making the field into essentially a dome, and he liked that. It reminded him of the Georgia Dome. He shut out the crowd noise and called for the snap. He turned and handed the ball to running back Michael Turner. The offensive line was engaged fully in blocking the defensive line. Michael Turner took a few steps, and then turned and tossed the ball back to Ryan, who subsequently threw the ball 50 yards. Wide receiver Roddy White made an extraordinary jump and catch between two Cardinals for a touchdown. Coach Mike Smith dialed up a flea flicker and scored on the play.

Next quarter, Ryan saw the Cardinals send a cover zero blitz. He snapped the ball, waited for wide receiver Michael Jenkins to get out to the side eight yards from the line. He tossed the ball out, and Jenkins juked Safety Antrell Rolle, and took the ball 71 yards for a touchdown as no safety was in the middle to stop Jenkins. Touchdown!

Atlanta easily beat the Arizona Cardinals, 30-24.

That’s what happened? Right?

In the days before the game, Arizona were pretenders. They were perhaps, “The worst team to ever get into the playoffs,” and got in because their division, the NFC West was just plain awful. The folks in Atlanta were celebrating already. “You pray for the Arizona Cardinals,” they said, giddy because they had the “W” already penciled in. Pre-game, in comparing matchups, the Falcons beat the Cardinals in every thing except their wide receivers. ESPN, the NFL Network, NBC Sports, and everyone else in the sports media, with the exception of Jerome “the Bus” Bettis (who played under Coach Ken Whisenhunt when Whiz was the Offensive Coordinator with the Steelers), got the notion that Atlanta would go far behind their rookie QB, Matt Ryan. They were flying high and would destroy the Cardinals without breaking a sweat. In the game, there was no position that Atlanta won.

They were totally wrong. The Cardinals dominated the Falcons in every way, destroying them and sending them back to Atlanta in shame. It was like the falcons were flying around in the atmosphere and they got ambushed by a gryfalcon (a mythological creature with the head and wings of a falcon, the front legs made like dragons, and the hindquarters like a lion, tail included). The Cardinals were the gryfalcon, and Atlanta had no idea until they were in the gryfalcon’s grip.  It was too late.

The flea flicker developed as follow: Arizona had the ball and were moving it on the ground. QB Kurt Warner took the snap and handed off to Edgerrin James, who took two steps and then turned and flipped the ball back to Warner. Warner threw the ball 50 yards into the end zone. The wide receiver who caught the ball was Larry Fitzgerald, who made an ordinary catch by his standards. An extraordinary catch would be reaching up and catching it with one hand.

The play in the second quarter, against the cover zero blitz, Warner waited until wide receiver Anquan Boldin cleared to the left side. He tossed it to him eight yards from the line of scrimmage, and he only had to beat Lawyer Malloy, which he did easily.

As far as the quarterbacks, how can you say Matt Ryan is better than Kurt Warner. He’s no Kurt Warner. He’s Matt Ryan. Someday he might be considered one of the elite quarterbacks, but not yet. Right now, he played like a rookie and Warner played like the 2-time NFL and 1-time Superbowl MVP that he is. Ryan was picked off on his first possession, was picked off later on a pass he shouldn’t have thrown, and finally, was tackled in the end zone for a safety. That reminds me of the San Fransisco game, when we moved down the field by converting 3rd and 7 or more yards four times, all to Boldin. Warner was Warner. In fact, his statistics were considered only adequate: 19/32, 271-yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT.

The defense stepped up and produced plays including two interceptions, a fumble recovered and run in for a touchdown, and a sack. They dominated the game in every way. The special teams pinned them deep inside their own 10-yard line several times.

Arizona finally had ‘synergy’. As Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “We’ve played like this throughout the year, at times. We just haven’t been consistent.” The big pass plays, particularly to Boldin, were like the opening play in the Miami game when they came with a blitz and left Boldin covered by a linebacker. The result of the play was a 79-yard touchdown. This time it was 71-yards. The defense at points had been dominant, like when we played the Buffalo Bills, but when they weren’t, they were giving up at least 30 points, the largest being 56-points to the Jets.  What did that signify? Youth. Plain and simple.

Arizona put together a 14-play drive in the late third – early fourth quarter. They confounded the sports broadcasters, who said they absolutely could not do that. Yet, they’ve done it before. They put together a 13-play drive on the San Fransisco 49’ers, in the first game of the season, effectively sealing the victory. That was only one of several times they put together drives like that. Finally, the drive in the last four minutes, in which Warner completed passes to Fitzgerald, 25-yards to wide receiver Steve Breaston, and finally the clutch play, a 16-yard pass to Tight End Steve Spach. When Spach caught the ball, the Cardinals could start the celebration.

Let me take a moment to take the media to school. Arizona did what they had to, defeating every other team in their division. 6-0. You can’t ask for any more than that. The records of the 10 other teams they played was 12-4, 12-4, 11-5, 11-5, 10-6, 9-7, 9-7, 8-8, 7-9. Or 89-55 collectively. In addition, they must consider the whole context of their season. The Arizona Cardinals are not the same team that played the 49ers in the first week, or even the same team that played the Vikings in Week 15. The time right after they beat St. Louis to win the Division, the first time since they had come to the desert, they honestly did not know how to handle that type of success. That’s why they didn’t look so hot over the last month of the season. That and snow in New England for Week 16.

Now, they have their next opponent in the Carolina Panthers. Some people reacted negatively to certain players and coaches who were glad they got the Panthers in the second round instead of the Giants. Let me clue you in, the only chance for the Cardinals to host another playoff game is for them to beat the Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles to win against the Giants. We understand that Carolina is a potent team, and definitely plays better at home. Once again, the Line is Carolina by 9.5. But, like Coach Whisenhut said, “I like being the underdog.”

I knew they would beat the Atlanta Falcons, because I’ve followed them all year. I wish I could say Arizona will beat the Panthers, but I can’t. All I can say is it’ll be a great game. Like Offensive Lineman Mike Gandy said, “We haven’t done anything to earn respect.” Certainly he is correct. It’s not the sports broadcasters he is seeking the respect from. They are clueless as to what’s really going on. It is the respect from the NFL as a whole that counts.