The Game That Wasn’t Supposed to Happen: Why the Media Continues to Get It Wrong

By PFC Cardinals Staff Writer Laura Healy

It’s Sunday morning of the NFC Championship Game and I am sitting at my computer, writing an article on the Arizona Cardinals. Apparently, I should be writing about the next draft. But yet I’m here, writing about a team that few think should be in the Championship game, much less hosting it. The media has focused this week on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Philadelphia Eagles. Nobody talks about the Arizona Cardinals.

My friends in Charlotte wrote me about how Carolina was going to beat us with Wide Receiver Steve Smith. “You can’t stop him,” they said. In the game we played against them earlier in the year, Smith burned us with a long TD catch, most of which came from Yards After the Catch (YAC). I told them we could stop him, because unlike the first meeting, rookie Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has emerged as the top CB. They said, “You can’t bump him at the line.” My response, “We don’t have to.” Because DRC runs faster than Smith and is three inches taller. DRC intercepted one ball down on the goal line, when he baited Quarterback Jake Delhomme to throw the ball to Smith in the End Zone. He tipped another ball that was caught by CB Rod Hood, and dropped another one.

See, things have changed in the desert. The defensive backfield has changed. When we played the first time, Eric Smith started at the #2 CB slot, Rod Hood started at the #1 CB spot, and DRC would come in for nickel and dime plays, along with Aaron Fransisco. The Safety’s were Antrelle Rolle, who was still trying to get his position down, and Adrian Wilson. Now, DRC is #1 CB, Rod Hood is #2, Rolle has made the adjustment going from CB to Safety, Wilson is going to the Pro Bowl. Coming off the bench is CB Ralph Brown and Aaron Fransisco. Just to put this in perspective, DRC has 6 picks in the last 9 games, one in each of the playoff games. Ralph Brown also has an INT in both playoff games, and Rolle stepped in when DRC tipped it in the air. The only disappointment was Carolina stopped him in the field of play. Usually, Rolle finds the End Zone.

So, why did Arizona handle Carolina so easily? Two things. They didn’t get uptight when Carolina took the opening kickoff down for a TD. They came back and shut the Panthers down, causing 5 INT and a fumble. They made Delhomme look inept. (Delhomme is a good QB, so I take nothing away from him). On offense, QB Kurt Warner found WR Larry Fitzgerald early and often. Fitz’s numbers: 8 rec., 188 yards, and 1 TD.  Early in the game, the Cards had a 3rd and 1. What would they do? Run Edgerrin James up the middle? No. Warner dropped back and hit Fitzgerald, who went up and caught the ball at its highest point. Only a Pro Bowl QB dials up the long pass and completes it to his well-covered Pro Bowl Wide Receiver.

It started with the brutal, pads on practice after the Cards came back from New England, where they had gotten pasted, 47-7. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was as mad as he’s ever been with the lack of effort he had seen in the snow. He made the team refocus on all three aspects of the game, offense, defense, and special teams. How would the team respond? Veterans like Kurt Warner and Edgerrin James led the way and the youngsters responded. The result is a team that is focused on the task at hand, and determined to run the ball behind a forgotten Edgerrin James. Now opponents could not drop back into pass coverage and forget about the run.

What the media doesn’t realize is Arizona has done all these things in the regular season, just not together. With a few exceptions they haven’t had the offense, defense and special teams working together. Now, they do. The analysts are scratching their heads, asking, “Where did they come from.” Or worse, “They’re not supposed to be here.” In fact, the media has mostly focused on Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb. But that’s good if you’re Kurt Warner. Once again, they are underdogs. They love that role. As Warner said to them in the locker room after the Carolina game, “Let’s shock the world!”

This week we will see who they really are. If the Arizona Cardinals go out today and have success in all three aspects of the game, combined with the crowd noise at University of Phoenix Stadium, they will win. If they don’t they will lose. Simple as that.  It’s a matter of synergy. But, I think they have a winning combination with Coach Whiz, Kurt and Edge leading the way.