Everything was in place for the proverbial meltdown. The defense was on the field with less than 2 minutes to play, the other team was driving in our territory, the score was tied and it seemed like we were poised for another trip to heartbreak hotel with an 0-2 start. BUT…..a big play from the defense, A GAME CHANGING PLAY, and 3 runs producing 20 yards to set up what amounted to the game winning field goal with :01 seconds on the clock.
Yeah, one word…….CLUTCH!!
The Arizona Cardinals triumphed in a tough battle over the division rival Seattle Seahawks by a score of 23-20 after PK Neil Rackers connected on a 42 yarder in front of the 13th straight sellout crowd in University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ on Sunday. I had the amazing opportunity to sit in row 2 right behind the Cards bench in this one (thanks to our friend E Morgan at AZsuperbowlblog.com) and I can tell you that the house went absolutely nuts when the we saw that kick sail through those uprights.
Cards QB Matt Leinart was quoted as saying that this win is a ‘stepping stone’ to bigger and better things, and I have to agree with him. This was a game that the Cards would traditionally lose; a close game where we couldn’t catch a break resulting in another near victory. But instead, the football gods chose to smile on the valley this weekend, and the energy from this win is going to continue all week, something the team will need as it gears up for two very difficult contests in the next two weeks against the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0).
So how did they do it? Here were the keys to this victory:
1. Matt Leinart looked like himself this week, he looked like a winner
Matt had every reason to hang his head after a dismal start to the season in last week’s opening loss to San Francisco, but like good players have to do he bounced back for 23-37 passing, 299 yds, 1 TD with 1 INT. He was mobile in the pocket when he had to be, he showed poise and made pretty solid decisions. His ability to work the play action paid off on his 30 yard TD toss to TE Leonard Pope in the second quarter, and he distributed the ball very well, utilizing both of his receiving threats Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald . While the offense did struggle in the second half, his strong start to the game and his 35 yard strike to Anquan in the fourth quarter to set up the game tying field goal could not have been more clutch.
2. The Offensive Lineman are my heroes!
Three words: Smash Mouth Football!!! That is what this unit did on Sunday, they pounded the rock for another 100+ effort on the ground for the second consecutive week. Edgerrin James rushed for 128 yards and a TD (his second rushing TD) on 24 carries, a 5.3 yd/carry average – that’s outstanding work!!! Additionally, penalties were kept to a minimum which also was further evidence of the work that Asst Head Coach Russ Grimm is putting in with this unit. Matt Leinart had plenty of time in the pocket to deliver the football, and his only sack of the day came after he tripped while trying to hand the ball off which had nothing to do with the Line. Edge and Leinart may get the stats, but they both know who deserves a lot of credit, THE O-LINE!
3. The Cardinals defense carried this team to victory
The defense needed to step up again, they needed to show that they’re performance wasn’t a fluke, they needed to produce some big plays, they needed to stop RB Shaun Alexander, etc……..Well they answered all of those questions with a resounding YES, YES AND YES!! Again this defense was lights out against the run, holding the former NFL MVP to only 70 yards rushing and a 3.9 yd/carry average.
In the first half, Alexander was held to 10 yards on 8 carries. You just can’t do it any better than that really. The defenders were in Seattle QB Matt Hasselback’s face all day long, getting to him twice on third down. And when we needed them the most, LB Gerald Hayes broke up the handoff between Hasselback and Alexander leading to the fumble recovery by DE Darnell Dockett and the eventual game winner. I think Cards OLB Bertrand Berry said it best in his quote to USA Today about this defensive unit, “We’re a force to be reckoned with.”
4. Special Teams lived up to their name this week
You can’t say enough about Neil Rackers. He connected on three field goals during the day, including a 52 yarder which tied it up at 20-20 late in the 4th quarter. But beyond the field goals another telling stat is that 5 out of his 6 kickoffs were touchbacks, negating the Seattle return game. And the first Rackers field goal was set up on a blocked punt by WR Sean Morey, the team’s first blocked punt in three seasons. The special teamers deserve alot of credit for this win. Rackers Rules!
All of these elements combined equalled a Cardinals victory, it was a complete game in which the team was able to rally together and get the W. Enjoy it and build off of it, that’s all I have to say.