Television close-ups showed Warner on his back, eyes glassy, the expression on his face revealing the sort of primal fear a wounded animal might exhibit.
Surely this would be the hit that pushed Warner over the edge and into retirement. The Cardinals' veteran quarterback only reinforced that seemingly logical conclusion during a recent interview with ESPN's Rick Reilly. The resulting piece takes readers inside Warner's thought process as the quarterback wrestles with a decision that will affect the 2010 NFC West race like no other this offseason.
Not many quarterbacks have been in Warner's position. Precedent is scarce.
Only six others in NFL history have thrown at least 20 touchdown passes in a season at age 38 (Warner threw 26 this season). As Warner contemplates whether it's time to walk away, he should know that only two players -- Brett Favre and Hall of Famer Warren Moon -- have thrown 20 or more scoring passes in a season at age 39 or older (Favre and Moon each did it twice).
The more one weighs the evidence, the more likely retirement seems, right?
"Not at all," Moon predicted during a phone conversation Tuesday. "In a month he'll be healed up and ready to go again."
There will be some drama, of course, as Warner works through the emotions most older players feel after a rigorous season extended by the playoffs. The Cardinals will cross their fingers and hope Warner comes back. The rest of the NFC West will hope for a quick and permanent retirement.
And it's always possible Warner will walk away.
But Moon, 53, can't envision Warner retiring unless a medical issue prevents the quarterback from playing or Warner simply loses his fire for the game. Moon points to Derrick Mason last offseason and Ed Reed this offseason as older players feeling what older players often feel for moments that are ultimately fleeting.
"If you polled guys over 30 or 32 years old in the league, I guarantee 60 or 70 percent are considering retiring when the season is over," Moon said. "Ask those same guys in March and that would drop to maybe 10 percent."
Moon played 17 NFL seasons after a six-year run in the CFL. In 1995, a 39-year-old Moon tossed 33 touchdown passes for the Vikings. No quarterback had thrown so many scoring passes at that age until Favre matched that total at age 40 this season.
"What is so impressive about Brett Favre is the way he moves and buys time," Moon said. "Did you see that play Sunday where he moves out of the pocket, gives a ball fake, double-pumps and throws the touchdown? You just don't do those things at 40 years old. His legs are still so live in the pocket. As long as you can move, you can play. Your knowledge is so keen at this stage."
Warner has never had the mobility that helps Favre improvise so well, but he's been in the Cardinals' offense long enough to make it second nature. And his legs were good enough for Warner to play his finest game of the year -- arguably his finest game as a Cardinal -- 19 weeks into the season. Warner completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns in the wild-card round.
"Legs have never been one of his assets as far as movement," Moon said, "but he is on his toes, he knows how to bounce to one side, set his feet and reset. He doesn't need to run out of the pocket, but he does need to have that bounce in his legs and he still has that, too."
Favre's stretch-run troubles with the Jets last season stemmed at least in part from a torn biceps. The Jets were 8-3 and coming off a dominating performance at previously 10-1 Tennessee when Favre's game deteriorated. Warner's arm appears fine. He told Reilly he was as sore this week as he could remember feeling, but the soreness will eventually subside. Warner has shown he can still make whatever throws the Cardinals need him to make.
As training regimens continue to improve, more quarterbacks should remain productive into their late 30s and beyond.
"As I said many times during Brett Favre's back and forth, as long as you can still play the game, you play it," Moon said. "If you can and if you want to, play it. Once it is taken away, once that ability leaves, it is not coming back. It goes and it goes fast. Take advantage of every year you can get out of this thing because you will miss it no matter how long you have played it."