It's nearly impossible to be a Cardinals fan, and pinpoint one singular, particular highlight from the 2008 playoffs. Mention Larry Fitzgerald's third 1st half touchdown against the Eagles in the NFC Title Game, and someone will point out the forced fumble/recovery that Antrel Rolle returned for a TD against the Atlanta Falcons.
Bring up Fitz's amazing, completely horizontal, tuck-the-ball-inside-the-pylon touchdown against the Panthers in the Division Championship game, and someone else will bring up Tim Hightower's churning, twisting touchdown in Arizona's version of 'The Drive', giving the Cardinals a 31-25 advantage with just over 2 minutes left in the Championship game.
The shear beauty, significance, and utter football joy of watching Warner hit Fitzgerald on a post, and Fitz splitting the last line of defense, seemingly running on air as he crossed the goal line with 2:35 left in Super Bowl XLIII, was tempered only by watching Pittsburgh's version of 'The Drive'
Many Cardinals fans couldn't wait to get back to University of Phoenix Stadium, ..back with the familiar faces they've come to know in making their way to Cardinals games over the years.
These are 'friends' that they didn't watch the Super Bowl with, but were as side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder as though we were all standing together in 'The Nest', sitting on a HUGE couch, or right next to me on the 45 yard line in Tampa that fateful February night.
The game against the San Diego Chargers brought us all back together. It didn't matter anymore that the lasting memory was an amazing touchdown catch for the wrong team in Super Bowl XLIII. It didn't even matter anymore that only one of the two player's scoring TD's in those final 3 minutes, unquestionably had both feet down.
It was time to look forward in a way that Cardinals fans have never experienced before!
Save for the rousing, thunderous roar that welcomed the team on the field in a packed UoP Stadium against the Chargers that quite possibly no preseason game ever experienced, the loudest scream of the preseason that ended last night in Denver, seems to be 'Where's the offense?'.
"Don't panic" I suggested 2 weeks ago, when the Chargers defense stifled the Cards first string offense en route to a 38-10 halftime lead. "I'm not worried" Cardinals QB Kurt Warner said heading into the following weeks game against Green Bay.
"On the offensive side of the ball, we were a little bit out of sync early," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "And a lot of times, we're not running our packages, so it's hard to get into sync. The things that I'm concerned about are the penalties (11) and the turnovers (four)."
Ummm, coach... aren't you at least a TINY bit concerned that an offense that averaged 30 points a game 8 months ago, averaged only 1.5 (1 TD in 4 games from the first string) in the preseason? Yes, I know its only preseason.
Yes, I know that teams don't gameplan like they do in the regular season. Yes, I know that teams 'hide' much of their playbook until the games that matter arrive.
But one lousy touchdown in 4 preseason games doesn't concern you at all? The complete lack of timing and rhythm between our Pro Bowl tandem of Warner/Fitzgerald throughout the 4 'meaningless games' raises nary an eyebrow?
What about the defense? Cardinals defenders looked like tackling dummies out there as the Packers rolled up one score and 18 points in 30 minutes two weeks ago. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was again toasted deep in Denver, and would have been a couple other times were it not for a dropped pass and an errant throw on a couple others.
The starting D managed to hold the Broncos and 3rd string QB Tom Brandstater to two field goals, but a third string QB shouldn't be able to move the ball up and down the field against the Cardinals number one defense the way Kyle Ortin and Phil Simms' backup did. Cards safety Adrian Wilson, "We’ve got to find a way out of this funk because we’re not making enough plays."
Wilson, always serious and not exactly known for his happy-go-lucky nature, said "I’m excited but at the same time I’m worried because of the things that have happened in the preseason. Hopefully we can get this thing turned around."
Whisenhunt, to his credit, isn't in panic mode. Yet.
In fact, he said after the game “I still feel good about our football team and the work we have been doing. You wanted to see a little smoother start on both sides of the ball but it was a little better than last week." In fact, he managed a smile when he followed that with "At least we weren’t down 28 at the half."
My take is that while there IS reason for concern, I think they will be fine once the season gets under way. A less mature group on offense might give me pause. But with Warner, Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin (who was a scratch again because of his hamstring), the same 5 offensive line men that played 20 games together last year, and two young but exciting runningbacks, should be able to get things together in fairly short order.
But like any fine tuned machine, it needs constant attention and maintenance. And if the necessary small adjustment (or six) that has the offense sputtering isn't fixed soon, it can lead to a complete breakdown.
Defensively, while I agree with A.W. that there's more reason to worry than on the other side of the ball, I have more confidence than just 'hope' that they will play better in 2009 than in 2008. They have the best secondary in the division, and maybe the best talent-wise on football. Attention to detail and playing with discipline are what was lacking in preseason.
I'll have more in my soon-to-be-published 'Best in the West' season preview. But I leave you now with the suggestion that we Cardinals fans have a lot of fun to look forward to in 2009. Be aware and concerned, but also be loud and proud of the NFC Champs! There's a lot more than 'hope' on our side with these guys.There's talent, too!
Let the REAL games begin!
(Photo: Cardinals WR Jerheme Urban has to play defender on Broncos safety David Bruton following a Matt Leinart interception)