The Arizona Cardinals got their 2012 season off on the right foot Sunday with a 20-16 home victory over the Seattle Seahawks, but the biggest story to come from the game may be the foot of their starting quarterback.
With just over eight minutes left in the game and the Cardinals trailing 16-13, third-year pro John Skelton, who won the starting job in the desert in the preseason, had to be helped from the field after sustaining what at the time appeared to be a serious ankle injury.
Enter the much-maligned Kevin Kolb, he of the $63-million contract and happy feet under pressure.
The sixth-year veteran came entered the game to a smattering of boos but Kolb quickly turned those to cheers when he led the Cardinals on what turned out to be the game-winning drive. He completed six-of-eight passes for 66 yards before hitting wide receiver Andre Roberts from six yards out with about five minutes to go in the game.
Kolb's performance was in stark contrast to a dreadful exhibition season. As he told Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic that while he'll savor the moment briefly, he knows it's also time to get ready for next week's game with the New England Patriots.
"I was fortunate to have the opportunity and to get in the zone," Kolb said. "It was a pretty special. I'm not going to lie. ... to win a game in that fashion, the way the preseason went, I'll definitely enjoy [Sunday] evening and [Monday] and get back to work."
Kolb will get a chance to prove that Sunday's drive was no fluke next week in Massachusetts, although it appears that the Redbirds dodged a bullet where Skelton is concerned. Bob McManaman of The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday that the prognosis on Skelton's ankle isn't as dire as was originally feared.
"We don't think it's going to be something that will hold him out too long," [head coach Ken] Whisenhunt said during his Monday news conference with reporters at the team's Tempe training facility. "It's a lot better news that it's a low ankle instead of a high ankle sprain and obviously, where we were yesterday when he was down on the field, it's a lot better news."
However, if Skelton only misses a game or two it could be enough to land him back on the bench.
Skelton didn't exactly light up the field while he was out there, completing only half his passes and throwing a pick. If Kolb performs well over the next couple of games, the Cardinals are going to ride him, especially given the scratch they have invested in the 28-year-old.
The key to success for both may well lie in going with what worked on that winning drive with much more regularity.
Kolb and the Cardinals were in hurry-up mode for most and Kolb lined up in the shotgun for much of it. Given his tendency to fold in the pocket and the fact that Arizona struggled mightily running the ball, perhaps Whisenhunt would be best served to run a fast-paced attack while spreading the field in an attempt to keep opposing defenses on their heels.
Granted, it's not going to work all the time but it certainly seems to be a better idea than trusting a suspect offensive line to protect a skittish quarterback in more "conventional" sets.
The fact of the matter is that, optimistic prognosis aside, Skelton's all but surely going to miss at least a couple of games, and the odds of the Cardinals making an East Coast trip and beating the Patriots are slim-to-none.
If Kevin Kolb pulls that off, the quarterback controversy is over.
If Kolb struggles and Skelton's rehab progresses, then when the Miami Dolphins come to town in Week 4 the 1-2 Redbirds will probably make the switch back to Skelton.
However, if Kolb plays well (even in defeat) or somehow manages to lead the Cardinals to at least a split of those two games, then a 2-1 Arizona team will have every reason to leave Kevin Kolb under center in the hopes of realizing the return they thought they'd get on their investment a season ago.
Either way, stay tuned because the quarterback controversy in the Valley of the Sun appears to be heating up yet again.