Cardinals worried? Not even a little bit
January, 3, 2010
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Matt YorkAn injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie worried the Cardinals more than Sunday's result.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Sly grins bordering on smirks flashed across Ken Whisenhunt's face more than once during his postgame news conference Sunday.
The Arizona Cardinals' coach seemed to know something the scoreboard failed to reveal at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Whisenhunt dismissed suggestions a 33-7 defeat to Green Bay would mean anything when the teams meet again in the wild-card round.
"I think our team is ready to play in the playoffs," Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals were not ready to play Sunday even before Whisenhunt removed key starters. Green Bay led 14-0 when Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner played his final snap late in the first quarter. Back in August, the Packers led the Cardinals 38-10 at halftime when both teams played their starters in the third exhibition game.
"We're not worried about that," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "When we come to play and are playing on all cylinders, we can play with anybody. I'm confident of that and I know everybody else in this locker room feels the same way."
As in August, Arizona didn't do much game planning. The Packers presumably didn't do much, either, but they left QB Aaron Rodgers in the game through their final possession of the third quarter. The Cardinals played vanilla defense and failed to get much pressure. They never sacked Rodgers.
"That was difficult," Whisenhunt said, "but our hope is that will pay off for us next week."
The Cardinals rely heavily on scheming to succeed with a 38-year-old quarterback and a defense without a dominant outside pass-rusher. Warner sets up opponents and beats them by anticipating throws. Few quarterbacks look better when everything is working. Few look as bad on a rough day.
Warner didn't play long enough Sunday for anyone to say anything meaningful about how he might perform in a week. He completed 4 of 6 passes for 31 yards.
On defense, 13 players contributed to the Cardinals' 42-sack total during the regular season. Those are the marks of a team that must prepare well to win.
Unlike last season, when the unproven Cardinals limped into the playoffs after a rough December, this team entered Week 17 with three victories in its past four games and a Super Bowl experience on its résumé. The Packers were the upstart team looking to keep their momentum.
"I'm not going to say we didn't try to win," nose tackle Bryan Robinson said, "but we are looking at the big picture. If this happens next week, then bring that same question to me and I will try to dissect it for you."
Watching Pro Bowl CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie leave the field on a cart less than 2 minutes into the game surely didn't help the Cardinals' mindset. By then, Arizona already knew the Vikings had beaten the Giants, ending Arizona's outside shot at securing the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
"We didn't give our best effort today and that probably had something to do with it," Warner said.
Injuries worried the Cardinals more than their performance.
Rodgers-Cromartie suffered a bruised kneecap. Receiver Anquan Boldin suffered knee and ankle injuries after surpassing 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career. Defensive end Calais Campbell suffered a thumb injury.
The Cardinals did not yet know the status of any of the players for the playoffs. They need all three.
Rodgers-Cromartie gives them a chance against Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and the Packers' explosive passing attack. Boldin gives Arizona the best chance to target Packers nickelback Jarrett Bush, who has struggled. Campbell, tied for the team lead with 7.0 sacks, gives Arizona its best chance at pressuring Rodgers.
Take away any one of those players and the Cardinals could have problems. They could have problems anyway.
Green Bay has won seven of its final eight games. Rodgers has played at a higher level than Warner, throwing four more touchdown passes and seven fewer interceptions. Driver and Jennings have combined for 11 receptions covering at least 40 yards, 10 more than Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.
Unlike Fitzgerald, who stayed in the game to pad his stats, Boldin said he wanted out of the game one series earlier. Such was the conflicted nature of this performance all the way around.
"We were impressed with their team," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Hopefully, we can keep up with them this weekend and hopefully we do a lot of studying and a lot of things so we can try to keep the game close."
Those final eight words told us Dockett was facetious. Like Whisenhunt, he wasn't reading anything into what happened Sunday.
Were the Cardinals disappointed?
"I guess, a tad bit," Dockett said. "But the game didn't really mean anything. I think they played their starters a little more than intended. At the end of the day, if they want to celebrate it, they can go ahead. We know we have some work to do and our main focus is [wild-card] weekend."
Drawing hard conclusions from any single Cardinals performance has proven futile in the recent past.
The Cardinals made it through the 2009 season without suffering back-to-back defeats, a first for the organization since 1975.
Expect this Arizona team to bounce back.