<
>

Warner looks like he could play forever

1/11/2010
Play1:20
Cardinals Top Packers In Wild OT Finish

Merril Hoge breaks down the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Green Bay Packers didn't know whether to blitz Kurt Warner or sit back and cover his receivers.

Not that it mattered.

That's what made the latest round of Warner retirement talk seem so utterly ridiculous Sunday.

Warner, retire?

The NFL should retire Warner's lucky No. 13 jersey after the 38-year-old legend completed 29 of 33 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns during the Arizona Cardinals' 51-45 victory in one of the league's greatest games.

"Kurt Warner was lights out," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Warner took a victory lap around University of Phoenix Stadium after Karlos Dansby's overtime touchdown ended the game. Warner waved goodbye to fans, then noted that it was his final home game of the season -- not necessarily of his career. The Cardinals can't play another home game this season even if they beat New Orleans in the NFC divisional round.

"Everybody, relax," Warner said.

Relax for another week, anyway. A trip to New Orleans awaits, and if the Cardinals lose, that could be the end for the only quarterback besides Peyton Manning and Joe Montana with six 300-yard passing games in the playoffs.

"I never want to make an emotional decision," Warner said. "I think it's easy to do, whether it's after a game like this to say, 'Ah, gosh, I'm going to play forever,' or after a bad game just say, 'Ah, I'm done.' "

Forever looked like the favorite Sunday.

Warner, facing a Green Bay defense that ranked among the NFL's top five in multiple categories, finished with more touchdown strikes than incomplete passes. He made Early Doucet look like Anquan Boldin. Playing often with rookies in the backfield and the untested Doucet subbing for the injured Boldin, Warner proved he could win a playoff shootout without having multiple future Hall of Famers for a supporting cast.

The Cardinals led 14-0 before Fitzgerald caught a pass. Steve Breaston finished with seven receptions for 125 yards and a TD. Doucet caught six passes for 77 yards and two scores. Fitzgerald overcame the slow start to catch six for 82 and two TDs.

"What more is there to say about Kurt?" Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Let Fitzgerald answer that one.

"When Kurt is playing at that kind of level, seeing the field and being able to diagnose what the defense is doing to him, getting the ball out of his hands so quick, he's hard to deal with," the receiver said. "He's a special player, Hall of Fame-caliber."

The case against Warner for Canton always hinged on the fact that Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce were on his side, or that Fitzgerald and Boldin were on the other end of his passes. Warner was the best player on the field Sunday, making zero mistakes. He finished with a 154.1 rating (158.3 is perfect).

Warner couldn't miss even when he tried. The pass Fitzgerald caught for an 11-yard touchdown came after Warner tried to throw away the ball while Packers defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins bore down on him. Jenkins roughed up Warner on the play, affecting the throw just enough to give Fitzgerald a chance.

Green Bay entered the game having limited opposing quarterbacks in the middle of the field, holding them to a 69.7 rating between the yard-line numbers, third-best in the league, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Warner completed 21 of 22 passes in this area -- that's 95.5 percent -- for 289 yards and five TDs.

Warner made the Packers pay on the outside as well. The fourth-quarter pass he arced over cornerback Tramon Williams for a 26-yard gain to Steve Breaston along the right sideline appeared indefensible. Warner's 17-yard touchdown strike to Breaston two plays later broke a 38-38 tie.

"He is one of the best playoff quarterbacks of all time," Whisenhunt said. "We thought going into today that would be an advantage for us."

The Packers' Aaron Rodgers was nearly as good, and better for stretches after overcoming a shaky start. But Warner was the only quarterback without a turnover.

Only Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Dan Marino have more postseason TD passes than Warner. No quarterback has averaged more yards per postseason game. Warner upped his career postseason passer rating to 104.6, second only to Bart Starr's 104.8. Montana ranks third at 95.6.

Warner, retire?

"We're not going there," Fitzgerald said. "Kurt's coming back. He's going to probably come back for another four or five years. That's the rumor around here. We're going to ride with that."

Expect Warner to come back unless the Cardinals win the Super Bowl. He's competitive and knows he could regret walking away too soon. He took some time to consider retirement last offseason, only to sign a two-year extension. At the time, he viewed the signing as a two-year commitment.

"I don't think you ever want to stay too long, but you never want to go out before it's time," Warner said. "The hard part is trying to figure that out, but right now it's about another playoff game. It's about New Orleans and then we'll go from there."

Warner's teams are 9-3 in playoff games.

Anyone care to bet against him next Saturday?