NFC West: Trent Edwards

Patrick Willis, Adrian Wilson and Steven Jackson defined toughness, physical play and intimidation in the NFC West when the division was known for none of those things.

It's only fitting Wilson and Jackson are leaving together.

While it's possible one or both could return to the division in some capacity, Wilson's release Friday and Jackson's decision to void his contract signal significant changes.

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck and Adrian Wilson
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenArizona safety Adrian Wilson terrorized NFC West foes like Matt Hasselbeck for 12 seasons.
The timing feels right in both cases, even though it's tough to wave goodbye. Wilson is 33 years old, lost playing time last season and was scheduled to earn a $1 million roster bonus this offseason. The Cardinals have a new coaching staff and a plan to rely more heavily on younger players. Now is the time to move on from Wilson.

"Decisions like this are never easy, but it’s especially tough with someone like Adrian because he’s been such a special player and important part of this organization for the last 12 years," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said in a news release.

Wilson and Keim played at NC State at different times. Keim was with the Cardinals when the team drafted Wilson in 2001. If anyone would push for the Cardinals to keep Wilson, Keim would be the one. But he had to realize the move was coming sooner, not later, and that this was the right time to make a break.

"He and I have a long history, as many know," Keim said in the statement. "I had the privilege of meeting Adrian at North Carolina State when he was a 17-year-old freshman. It was obvious even then that his infectious smile and imposing stature could make him a star. His disruptive style meant opponents always had to know where No. 24 lined up, and the statistics illustrate all that he accomplished through his play on the field. Just as impressive, though, has been the leadership, discipline and determination he brought day in and day out, year in and year out."

I'll remember Wilson for putting huge, message-sending hits on Vernon Davis, Todd Heap, Trent Edwards and others. I'll remember him for delivering punishing hits to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck during a 2008 game in Seattle. Hasselbeck appeared especially drained after the game. He accused Wilson of dirty tactics, then later apologized.

Five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro honors define Wilson as one of the most accomplished safeties of his era. Wilson played 181 games, fifth most in franchise history. He leaves the Cardinals having picked off 27 passes and collected 25.5 sacks. The latter total is the fourth most by a defensive back since sacks became a stat in 1982.

We can debate how effective Wilson was playing the run versus playing the pass, but that misses what Wilson represented in his essence. He was a 6-foot-3, 230-pound strong safety and a threat to injure anyone in his path. The hit he put on Edwards drew a $25,000 fine and would have been more appropriate in a 1976 game between Pittsburgh and Oakland. That was the point. Cardinals opponents had to fear Wilson. No more.

Buckle up: Chancellor, Wilson break mold

December, 28, 2011
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The Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks' Kam Chancellor tower over the other strong safeties in the NFC this season.

That is true not only in their accomplishments -- Wilson is a Pro Bowl starter, Chancellor a first alternate -- but in their physical dimensions.

They are the biggest starting strong safeties in the NFL at a time when the prevailing NFL trends have led teams in another direction at the position. Wilson stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 230 pounds. Chancellor goes 6-3 and 232. The other 30 starting strong safeties average 6 feet and 207 pounds.

The Cardinals' and Seahawks' offensive players should be on alert Sunday when the teams close out the regular season against one another at University of Phoenix Stadium. Chancellor has incurred $60,000 in fines for hits the NFL deemed illegal this season. Wilson, fined $25,000 for a memorable 2008 hit on Trent Edwards, was slapped with a $10,000 fine last season and one for $7,500 in 2011.

"It's tough to be an enforcer safety the way the rules are, where every receiver is defenseless," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "But the beauty is, they can be a linebacker in your sub packages. They can make a lot of plays for you with 4-5 guys behind them -- stop the run, pick up a Matt Forte out of the backfield, those things. And the quarterback doesn't know what they are going to do."

[+] EnlargeSeattle's Kam Chancellor
Jim Z. Rider/US PRESSWIRESeattle's Kam Chancellor towers over many other NFL safeties.
Offenses, enabled by rules changes favoring the pass, have forced defenses to counter with players better suited for coverage than patrolling near the line of scrimmage. But purely from a size standpoint, the top two strong safeties from the NFC are more Steve Atwater than Steve Gregory. They aren't bad in coverage, but opponents must contend first with their physical nature.

"I picked Chancellor slightly over Wilson, but clearly they were the guys to choose from," Williamson said.

The best offenses this season are making frequent use of athletic tight ends. Green Bay's Jermichael Finley, New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez come to mind. Teams could increasingly value bigger safeties in coverage, although so many of the athletes with the necessary qualifications seem to be playing offense.

"The great strength of Wilson or Chancellor is not to cover an Aaron Hernandez, it is to knock their teeth out," Williamson said. "But that is coming. Those big safeties are the only ones athletic enough to hang with them. You can see much more of a premium on having a defensive back who is 6-3 and 220 and can hit and will bang with a Gronkowski."

Chancellor has 12 passes defensed, four interceptions, three tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and a sack this season, according to ESPN.com figures. Wilson has 14 passes defensed, seven tackles for loss, one interception and one forced fumble. He is one of 11 NFL players with at least 20 career sacks and 20 interceptions.

"They are muscle-bound guys and that is certainly not a bad thing," Williamson said. "You have to use them properly. They are a thing of the past, but also the wave of the future."
Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information passes along this: Ten of the 11 quarterbacks drafted in 2007 have changed teams now that Kevin Kolb is heading to Arizona.

This doesn't reflect poorly on Kolb, who has sat behind quarterbacks with multiple Pro Bowls on their resumes, so much as it does on that quarterback class in general.

JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn were the only first-round quarterbacks that year. Kolb, chosen 36th overall and with the fourth pick of the second round, was the third quarterback drafted. John Beck and Drew Stanton joined Kolb as second-rounders that year. Stanton is the only one still with his original team, provided he re-signs, as expected.

A few other notes from Hawkins:
  • None of the 11 quarterbacks from the 2007 class has a winning record as a starter.
  • Trent Edwards is the only one with to hit double figures in victories as a starter (14-19 record).
  • Stanton (2-2) and Troy Smith (4-4) are the only ones without losing records as a starter. Kolb is 3-4.
  • Eight of the 11 have started at least one game. Isaiah Stanback, Jeff Rowe and Jordan Palmer have not.
  • Among those with starts, Beck is the only one without a victory as a starter (0-4).
  • Russell (7-18) and Quinn (3-9) have a combined 10-27 record as starters.

Check out the full list if you've got a strong stomach.

As the Cardinals pointed out in their news release Thursday, Kolb is the only quarterback in Eagles history to pass for at least 300 yards in each of his first two starts. He has been named offensive player of the week in the NFC and has an 81.2 career rating.
NFL teams selected six quarterbacks among the first 36 choices in the 2011 NFL draft.

That hadn't happened since 1983, when Dan Marino was the sixth quarterback chosen.

The distinction fell to Colin Kaepernick this time. The Nevada quarterback wasn't happy watching NFL teams select five other quarterbacks before San Francisco traded up nine spots to select him 36th overall.

"You want to prove that you should have been the top pick, that other quarterback shouldn't have been taken ahead of you," Kaepernick told ESPN's Colin Cowherd. "To me, I take that kind of personally, that teams thought I was the sixth-best quarterback and not the best quarterback."

Marino, chosen 27th overall in his draft class, fared OK.

The chart lists the sixth quarterback drafted every year since 1999. Kaepernick and Shaun King were the only ones selected higher than 81st overall. Tom Brady was famously the seventh quarterback selected in 2000.

Kaepernick will be trying to defy trends. Not only have the sixth quarterbacks in recent draft classes struggled, but so have most passers chosen in second rounds over the years.
Facebook friend Barrett was on the right track when he said NFL teams have struggled finding quarterbacks in the second and third rounds.

Teams tend to overvalue quarterbacks in the draft, which means the most promising ones rarely escape the first round. Teams tend to focus on other positions in the rounds immediately following the first round before "taking flyers" on the position later in the draft.

We see this when looking at the number of quarterbacks drafted by round since 2000. There have been 31 in the first round, 16 in the second, 17 in the third, 20 in the fourth, 24 in the fifth, 36 in the six and 32 in the seventh.

The chart, updated since it ran in February 2010, ranks second-round quarterbacks since 1995 by number of games played.

While we're on a hot streak, let's take a quick look at third-round quarterbacks drafted since 1995, arranged by team:
Count Schaub and Whitehurst among those who were more valuable to their teams as trade bait than as quarterbacks.

Sam Bradford announcement suits all

September, 4, 2010
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Coach Steve Spagnuolo was understandably excited Saturday in naming Sam Bradford as the St. Louis Rams' starting quarterback against Arizona in Week 1.

White
Bradford
The Cardinals should be excited, too.

Lining up against a rookie quarterback making his first regular-season start has its advantages.

Other smart, young quarterbacks have failed to notice Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson creeping toward the line of scrimmage before blitzing (Trent Edwards, a Stanford graduate, comes to mind). The Seattle Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck knows what it's like to take an unnecessary elbow from Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett.

Arizona has some hard-nosed, skilled players on its defense. They've spent the offseason hearing about their expected demise following Kurt Warner's retirement. More recent turmoil at quarterback will only lower expectations, allowing Arizona to play with a chip on its shoulder even against a Rams team coming off a 1-15 season.

Bradford doesn't look like any rookie, however. He seems to possess poise, awareness, smarts and an accurate arm. He'll have Steven Jackson on his side, a good thing any day, but especially against a Cardinals defense with some question marks at inside linebacker.

I'm heading to St. Louis for this Week 1 matchup, a departure from my original plan to watch the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field. Bradford's emergence as the starter and the overall uncertainty surrounding Arizona makes this a compelling matchup.

"I don’t think that anybody in this situation, coming in as a rookie quarterback, is ready for everything," Spagnuolo told reporters Saturday. "I’m sure that these defensive coordinators will fire things at him that we haven’t seen yet. I totally anticipate that. He anticipates it. But you just prep him with the basics. He’s got a good team around, this will still be about the team. The guys have been doing a good job all the way through. When we talk about Sam leading the team in these preseason games, there were 10 other guys out there who really did a nice job, too."

Healthy perspective on Matt Leinart

August, 24, 2010
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Facebook friend E.J. reached out with a question about Matt Leinart's light workload against the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

"When Kurt Warner was the starter," he wrote, "I always thought Leinart should play every snap of the preseason (when Warner wasn't in). But to my surprise, they often played Brian St. Pierre and even Tyler Palko. Now that Leinart's time has come, I'm again surprised to see how little Leinart has played."

E.J. pointed to other starters around the league playing longer.

"Could you shed some light on the Cardinals' approach to limiting Leinart's preseason work?" he asked.

Yes. I asked coach Ken Whisenhunt about this issue early in training camp and he surprisingly said there would be no extra effort made to get reps for Leinart. To the contrary, Whisenhunt was reasonably comfortable with what Leinart could do. Getting work for Anderson, who was new to the system, would be a higher priority than carving out extra time for Leinart.

That told me Whisenhunt felt good enough about Leinart to go into the season with Leinart as his starter, even if the offense played the way it played in past preseasons with Kurt Warner under center -- not very well.

Yes, it's more important for Leinart to look good during these preseason games because he's less established than Warner. It's also fair to wonder to what degree Leinart's performances might be affecting Whisenhunt's view of him. My sense early in camp was that Whisenhunt felt better about Leinart than he was letting on -- the last thing he wanted to see was Leinart getting complacent. Whisenhunt has handled other players similarly, so there's nothing out of the ordinary there.

At your request, E.J., I went through gamebooks from the recently completed second week of exhibition games to see how much starting quarterbacks played in general. Special circumstances limited A.J. Feeley, Josh Freeman and Brett Favre to only one series apiece.

The chart ranks preseason Week 2 starting quarterbacks by total plays. The chart also shows total possessions and pass attempts for each quarterback. Leinart could have gotten more plays by converting a first down or two, but I thought Whisenhunt could have given him another series or possibly gone for it on fourth-and-1.

The blog feels a bit like a radio station lately with several recent entries dedicated to audio.

Here's another one: San Francisco 49ers great Ronnie Lott on KNBR in San Francisco, paying tribute to former Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum, who died Tuesday.

A clearly emotional Lott credited Tatum for establishing a style and level of play for younger safeties to emulate. NFL.com has made available this video ranking Tatum as one of the most feared tacklers (Lott was fourth and that video is here, complete with the collision that cost him his pinkie finger).

The Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson is the one current NFC West safety with some of the same characteristics in terms of physical play and hitting ability (hits on Vernon Davis and Trent Edwards come to mind).

My all-time list of big-hitting NFC West safeties -- those who played for teams currently aligned with the division -- would feature Lott, Wilson, Cardinals Hall of Famer Larry Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks' Kenny Easley. Chuck Cecil played only one season for the Cardinals, but he also deserves mention.

There have certainly been others. Who's missing?

There's more to playing the position than hitting, of course. Lott has pointed to his understanding of the game as his most important attribute. He touched on that aspect during the KNBR interview when recalling what made Tatum an excellent player. Delivering crushing hits frequently requires getting in position to make those hits, which requires understanding situations.

Lott and Tatum did that better than most.

The book on Charlie Whitehurst

March, 9, 2010
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Charlie Whitehurst shares something in common with any quarterback the Cardinals might draft this year.

He has never attempted a pass in a regular-season NFL game.

Whitehurst
The Chargers' backup quarterback, on the Cardinals' radar as a restricted free agent, was tendered to a third-round choice. The Cardinals have an extra third-rounder from the Anquan Boldin trade, but the team could conceivably attempt to work out alternative compensation with San Diego should Arizona decide to pursue Whitehurst.

NFLDraftScout.com's analysis on Whitehurst coming out of Clemson in 2006 called him a "good competitor who is a quiet leader, but has total control of the huddle" and a quarterback with "a snappy overhead delivery and a fluid follow-through rather than a windmill type that most tall passers display."

Some of the negatives listed could be outdated, the assumption being Whitehurst has worked to correct them under Norv Turner and the Chargers' offensive staff.

Matt Leinart is the only quarterback on the Cardinals' roster.

Using a third-round choice for Whitehurst, 27, could make more sense than using one for a college prospect. Though inexperienced, Whitehurst would be better prepared to play in a regular-season game.

The chart shows third-round quarterbacks drafted since 2000. Not many have succeeded. One exception: The Texans acquired 2004 third-round choice Matt Schaub from the Falcons when Schaub had minimal experience.

Not to be negative, but ...

January, 28, 2010
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Facebook friend Alex writes: "As a 49ers fan I have a question for either Jimmy Raye or Mike Singletary. Why do they favor throwing the ball 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage? OVER & OVER & OVER! It get's them nowhere! Why not look at the 80s and 90s and see the the slant pass works so much better. Or at least throw it close to the line of scrimmage! 49er fans are tired of that play!"

Mike Sando: Seems to me those 49ers teams of yesteryear had better players, particularly at quarterback. But this question does seem worth indulging after Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information independently passed along numbers showing how many negative plays each NFL team suffered.

The 49ers lost yardage on 14 percent of plays (not counting incomplete passes). Only the Chiefs lost yardage a higher percentage of the time (14.2) last season. The NFL average was 11.6 percent. Five teams were below 10 percent: Patriots (8.6), Dolphins (8.9), Saints (9.2), Falcons (9.4) and Colts (9.6).

The Seahawks (12.8) and Rams (12.4) were worse than the league average. The Cardinals (11.6) were average.

Also according to ESPN Stats & Information, Alex Smith's passes traveled 7.2 yards in the air on average, well off the NFL average of 8.4 air yards. Only Trent Edwards (7.1), Matt Hasselbeck (6.9), Keith Null (6.8), Jason Campbell (6.7) and Kyle Boller (6.3) had lower averages among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts. Shaun Hill averaged 8.3 air yards per pass attempt.

The numbers don't say anything definitively -- Matt Schaub was at 7.7 air yards and he enjoyed a Pro Bowl season -- but they support your general thought about the 49ers suffering too many negative plays.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Eric from Millette, Ga., writes: Are you tired of the beating you are taking over Chad Pennington not being in the top 20? Maybe you should stick to the NFC Less and leave NFL topics to the experts.

Mike Sando: Now might be a good time to re-read that blog entry. The ranking device we were using did not list Pennington as one of the choices. Hence, his omission.


Sean from Tampa writes: Top 20 QBs and you've got Kyle Orton and Trent Edwards ranked ahead of Pennington. Are you serious? 'Penny' had better stats than both of them across the board and somehow they're better? How did you even get a job with ESPN with rankings like that anyway? Awful, just awful.

Mike Sando: The ranker probably should have included Pennington's name on the list. It did not.


Mike from Rapid City, S.D., writes: I'm not going to bash you like others do, but are you serious? I know that every fan thinks their QB should be on the list. Chad Pennington is behind Kyle Orton, Trent Edwards, David Garrard, Matt Schaub and even your very own Matt Hasselbeck? Are you saying that these guys had a bad season was a fluke and its not going to happen again or that Chad's season he had was a fluke?

I have a question for you. Who is the most accurate QB in history? Who threw the least amount of INTs last season? A lot of these other guys did not even play all season long.

Mike Sando: In reference to Eric's mailbag submission above, yes, now I'm getting tired of the beating. Another guy wrote ripping me for leaving off Carson Palmer from the list. He then wrote back and apologized after finding Palmer ranked seventh.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Once-and-future debate opponent Paul Kuharsky and I agree on this: Drag-and-drop ranking systems are fun. The latest one on ESPN.com lets you organize and rank NFL quarterbacks.

Twenty quarterbacks were available for ranking. Knee rehabilitations have become routine enough for me to trust that Tom Brady will likely return at a high level. Matt Hasselbeck (back) and Carson Palmer (elbow) are coming back from injuries for which neither underwent surgery. That makes the rehabilitation a little less predictable in my medically uninformed view.

Jay Cutler also remains a bit of an enigma. Great talent, unspectacular results so far. And he certainly didn't score points for his handling of the offseason so far.

I ranked the quarterbacks this way, trying to balance recent injuries, potential and career achievement:

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Dude in Brooklyn writes: Sando, I didn't realize you were so expert with faint praise. Your statement that the 49ers have the best defense in the division couldn't have been less enthusiastic. "Based on what we have seen," "I know they played some weak offenses," "there was a sense they were improved" ... that is not the language of a convinced man.

2008 Defense Yards Per Game
Yards Per Pass Play 3rd Down Pct. Red Zone Pct.
PPG
SF
13 14
12
8
23
ARI
19
24
28
28
28
STL 28
31
17
30
31
SEA 30
27
23
17
25

Fair enough. But why, Mike Sando? There is both an easy positive and negative argument for why the 49ers' defense is the best. They were statistically superior in nearly every category and did so with a crappy offense that constantly left them in bad position with three-and-outs and turnovers. Their per-play stats are top-10 or just below.

Over the course of the season, they played all the same teams except for two, so the schedule argument is bogus. If anything, the Cards should be demoted for not having to play their own offense when the rest of the division had to. The squad has a good mix of experience and youth and includes five former or current Pro Bowlers and several players that are developing quite well.

As for the negative argument ... there's almost nothing good to say about the Rams or Seahawks. I'll leave the Rams alone because they're rebuilding. Yes, the Seahawks had major injuries on offense, but the defense was as healthy as the others in the division. It was bad because it was bad. Are the additions going to be enough? How important are the personnel losses? That defense has more questions than answers and did nothing well last year.

As for the Cards, their defense was 19th despite the advantage of a fourth-ranked offense. Some say they have a good secondary, but they couldn't defend the pass all year. Is a nickel back [Bryant McFadden] and a third-rounder [Rashad Johnson] going to solve their pass-defense woes? For those who think the Cards have a good secondary, I'll leave Sando with a homework assignment that will disabuse you of your rose-tinted glasses: What was the last team to allow more passing TD's than the 2008 Cards?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals allowed 36 passing touchdowns last season. I suspect the 1981 Colts were the last team to allow more (37) in a season. Not good.

To address your broader point, we might be answering different questions. The evidence you cited was from last season. Which NFC West team had the best defense last season? The 49ers, of course, by almost any measure. Which NFC West team will have the best defense in 2009? The 49ers, probably.

Back to the Cardinals. When they were bad, they were really bad. When they were good, they were really good. The 49ers were more consistent defensively. Arizona allowed six touchdown passes to Brett Favre in a single game. Horrible. But when the Cardinals needed to control Matt Ryan and Jake Delhomme in the playoffs, they did it well. That means more than how the 49ers fared in a meaningless game against Buffalo.

The Cardinals can play with a violence and ferocity that is unmatched in the division. That is how they recovered a league-high 17 fumbles last season. The 49ers recovered six. The fumble-forcing hit Darnell Dockett put on Zak Keasey last season comes to mind. The knockout shot Adrian Wilson put on Trent Edwards was another example. Patrick Willis is the only other player in the division to inflict that type of punishment (the hit on Jets receiver Brad Smith last season comes to mind).

The problem in this division is that none of the teams can count on having a strong pass rush. The 49ers could develop one if Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson flourish in the
3-4. The Seahawks could rediscover one if Patrick Kerney gets healthy and some of their recent draft choices develop, etc. But can any team in this division truly count on its pass rush?

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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TAMPA, Fla. -- Adrian Wilson's free shot on Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb forced a fumble at a critical point in the NFC Championship Game.

 Wilson

With Super Bowl XLIII approaching, I asked Clancy Pendergast, the Cardinals' defensive coordinator since 2004, to share a few of his most memorable Wilson plays:

  • Eagles at Cardinals, Dec. 24, 2005: "He blitzed off the edge, ran over the running back and sacked the quarterback. That was the one that really jumps out at me." Wilson finished the game with two sacks. Arizona won, 27-21.
  • Bears at Cardinals, Oct. 16, 2006: "I blitzed him off the edge and he just ran clean right by one of their tackles." Wilson sacked Rex Grossman, forcing a fumble. Darnell Dockett recovered. This Monday night game would become notorious for other reasons.
  • Bills at Cardinals, Oct. 5, 2008: "His hit on [Trent] Edwards of Buffalo." Those who saw it won't forget it. Wilson knocked Edwards from the game and drew a $25,000 fine, which the Cardinals thought was unwarranted. Arizona won, 41-17.
Pendergast on Wilson's hitting in general: "Watching that from the sideline, when he hits somebody, the impact -- when he hits you, he hits you. He strikes you. He plays with such good leverage and he is so explosive in his lower body that he always strikes with the same shoulder, strikes on contact. That explosion with his legs. When I was coaching in Dallas, Darren Woodson had that similar impact ability to hit. Roy Williams did. There are very few safeties I've been around that have that type of impact strength when they hit someone."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The difference between a winner and a loser rarely looks as blatant as it did Dec. 21 in Foxborough, Mass. The Arizona Cardinals had a better chance dodging the falling snow than they did disastrous plays against the New England Patriots.

The Cardinals certainly didn't look like a Super Bowl team that wintry afternoon. They looked like playoff frauds while the Patriots slapped them around 47-7.

With that, Arizona completed its enigmatic tour against the AFC East.

The NFC West and AFC East were cross-conference opponents this year, pitting one of the weakest divisions against one of the most competitive.

Twice Arizona looked like an elite club. Twice it looked like a team that didn't belong in the playoffs, let alone capable of a Super Bowl run.

Week 2 vs. Miami Dolphins, 31-10 W

What it meant for the Cardinals: An impressive showing, the Cardinals handed the AFC East champs their worst regular-season loss.

After a so-so performance in the season opener, Kurt Warner gave the NFL the first glimpse of what the Cardinals' offense could do. He completed 19 of 24 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin had six receptions apiece for 153 and 140 yards.

What it meant for the Dolphins: Such a thrashing and a 0-2 start had Dolfans dreading another year like their 1-15 campaign. But the loss jolted the Dolphins and, out of desperation for something to stunt a downward spiral, they introduced their Wildcat offense the next week at New England for a season-changing blowout victory.

Week 4 at New York Jets, 56-35 L

What it meant for the Cardinals: Although the final score made it look like the Cardinals' defense was abysmal, seven turnovers (three interceptions, four fumbles) set up the Jets like they were in a college-overtime format. The Jets recorded five sacks.

The only positive spin was their ability to battle back from a 34-0 halftime deficit to get within 13 points in the third quarter. The Cardinals slipped to 2-2 with the loss and, while Warner's 472-yard day was remarkable, looked nothing like NFC contenders.

A vicious hit by Jets safety Eric Smith broke Boldin's face and raised concerns of how the Cardinals' offense would cope without him. The Cardinals won twice without him to reinforce they were a team worth watching.

What it meant for the Jets: After a 1-2 start, the record-setting victory sent the Jets on a scalding stretch in which they won seven out of eight games to become a fashionable Super Bowl pick. Anybody wondering if Brett Favre had anything left to give had to be won over by his performance: 24-of-34 for 289 yards and a personal-best six touchdowns. Little did we know ...

Week 5 vs. Buffalo Bills, 41-17 W

What it meant for the Cardinals: They rebounded against a team that was gaining favor as an AFC contender. The Bills were 4-0, but the Cardinals smashed them apart to rise above .500 for good.

Warner continued to generate MVP buzz by completing 33 of 42 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Arizona's defense was brilliant with four takeaways and five sacks.

What it meant for the Bills: Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson crashed through the line and delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit that concussed Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. The collision might have altered Buffalo's course 180 degrees. After their bye, Edwards started the next game against the San Diego Chargers and was outstanding, but then he fell apart in a nauseating stretch of seven losses in eight games.

Week 16 at New England Patriots, 47-7 L

What it meant for the Cardinals: The defeat was meaningless in the sense Arizona already had locked up a first-round home playoff game, but the damage to their confidence was potentially ruinous. This was their low point of the season, and the playoffs were starting in two weeks. But it served as a wake-up call.

The Cardinals already had clinched the NFC West, and when they stepped off the bus at Gillette Stadium they saw miserable conditions -- a combination of cold, wind and freezing rain. Mentally, the Cardinals stayed on the bus.

Warner was 6-of-8 for 30 yards before giving way to Matt Leinart. The Cardinals rushed for 44 yards. They had the ball for a measly 21:25.

What it meant for the Patriots: Their fans still point at this game as an example of postseason injustice. The Patriots pulverized a playoff team but had to stay home in January. The Cardinals qualified with a 9-7 record because they won their division, while the Patriots became only the second 11-win team since the NFL-AFL merger not to get in.

Matt Cassel had another sensational game in his first career snow game. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns.

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