If a swine flu epidemic broke out on the field today at UoP Stadium, there would have been enough hankies on the turf for every drippy nose in the building. And in the surrounding neighborhood.
That said, all that stuff about the Cardinals offense rallying around the maniacal 62,000 fans/witnesses to the dropping of the teams first ever NFC Championship banner, and overcoming the preseason warning signs, and finding that rhythm that has eluded them for a month, was just that.
Stuff. Crapola. Balogna Sausage.
It was a bad call by yours truly. A kickoff out-of-bounds. A false start. A personal foul. I was offsides. It was a flagrant violation. My backfield was in moti,...well, nevermind. You get the point.
I was watching the Cardinals imploding just before halftime, and my mind went back to Tampa Florida, February 1 2009. I'm watching the Cards defense save the struggling offense time after time, and keeping it close.
I'm wondering, "Where's Larry Fitzgerald? Where's Anquan Boldin?" I'm looking, and there was seemingly more yellow cloth on the field today in Glendale than in Tampa that fateful day.
The only thing missing was a lumbering rumbling bumbling stumbling goalline to goalline touchdown by a 280 lb. man wearing the wrong color uniform as time ran out in the half. And a big boat beyond the endzone.
I hearkened back to the Denver game 10 days ago. I hearkened further back to the Green Bay game before that. It wasn't until I hearkened WAY back to the San Diego game before that that I found a comparison to what unfolded today.
The Cardinals defense stepped up and made plays. They thwarted drives with behind-the-line tackling, and putting pressure on 49ers QB Shaun Hill. They stuffed the run, hindered the pass, and basically kept an increasingly ugly and offensive offense in the game.
The Cards defense had eight 3-and-outs in the 49ers 13 drives. The Niners amassed all of 12 yards in those eight possessions. In fact, besides a 50 yard pass to veteran Issac Bruce, San Francisco was held to next to nothing on almost every drive in the game. Except one. And that was the one that counted.
Kurt Warner didn't look good. A little 'Just for Men' on that gray beard might have helped. But he didn't play very good either,.. and all the hair dye west of the mighty Mississippi won't change that.
Warner was under-throwing, over-throwing, throwing behind guys, and throwing to opposing players. He was unable to find either of his two Pro Bowlers in Fitz and Boldin (who ended up starting while third WR Steve Breaston was left inactive). He was, as he was in the entire preseason, erratic.
The glaring stats that said it all: In the 1st half, Larry Fitzgerald had as many pass interference penalties as Boldin had receptions. Fitz himself only had two grabs in the first 30 minutes.
And do you remember me mentioning the expected use of a RB in the flat, and making plays from there? Runningback Tim Hightower ended up with six times as many grabs (12) as Boldin (2) for the game, and had three times as many receptions as Fitz in the first half, and twice as many (6) as he had for the game.
I mean, I suppose it's somewhat flattering if I think about it from a "My lips to Kurt's ear" scenario. But these stats are just plain wrong.
Fourteen. That's how many penalties the Cardinals had on the day. Only 12 were accepted (he said, as though that makes a difference).
By the time the faithful looked up at halftime, the hometown heroes were down 13-6, thanks to matching FG'd by the cardinals kicker Neil Rackers and former Cardinals kicker Joe Nedney, and a three-yard TD run by Niners RB Frank Gore.
The good news is, that three yards matched the 49ers total rushing in the first half, and was twice what Gore averaged for the day (22 for 30 yards, a 1.4 average).
The Cards started to put together a comeback in the third quarter, which brought the fandamonium back to its opening kickoff fever pitch. Following two straight 3-and-outs by the Cards D, Warner finally put together a nice, long awaited drive.
Warner hit Fitzgerald on the first play of the drive for 18 yards. Rookie RB Beanie Wells followed that up with the Cardinals longest run of the day for another 15 yards. Wells popped off another eight yards before Warner hit Higtower in the right flat for 23 yards, to the San Francisco four-yard line. Then, scrambling to his right to buy time, he found Fitz breaking back toward the middle of the endzone to tie the game.
It started to feel like last year.
After yet another three-and-out, Warner again drove the Cards to pay-dirt. The Cardinals had the ball for almost 11 minutes in the third quarter, and just as the fourth quarter started, Rackers lifted the Big Red to a three-point lead!
Ironically, the Cardinals only had one penalty in the third quarter, and they went from seven-point deficit to three-point lead. Imagine that.
But this was the one time the defense seemed to step back and relax. And when a costly penalty proved to be ...well, costly.
Hill put together a 15 play, 80 yard drive that took almost 8 minutes off the clock. But the defense stiffened at the goalline, and it looked for a split second that they were going to hold San Francisco to a game tying field goal after an incomplete pass on third and goal at the seven-yard line.
An offsides penalty by Darnnell Dockett gave the Niners half the distance, and another shot at the endzone. Apparently, for some reason known only to themselves, the Cardinals were paying attention to anyone/everyone but Frank Gore. Hill dropped back and tossed a pass to such a wide open Gore, that he may as well have stepped into the endzone when no one was looking, a-la Zola Budd.
After another exchange of possessions, 49ers punter Andy Lee kicked the ball to safety/backup punt returned Antrel Rolle, who zigged and zagged his way back 27 yards to the San Francisco 38 with just over three minutes on the clock.
This had all the earmarks of yet another fantastic finish in Warners storied career. First and 10 at the 49ers 38 yard line with just over three minutes on the clock. With Fitz and Boldin on one side in a two-back set, Warner took the snap and..
False start on TE Stephen Spach. Ok, whatever...no big deal. First and 15 at the 43. On the ensuing play, Warner sees Jerhemy Urban open, heaves the ball his way, and..
Uh oh, Holding, Mike Gandy. Now its 1st and 25 at the Cardinals 47 yard line. (Psssssssst, guys...you're going the wrong way). After a seven-yard run by Hightower, a 13 yard reception by Urban, and the two minute warning, Warner threw the next two passes incomplete, basically ending any chance of snagging his 13th comeback victory from the jaws of defeat.
The faithful, on a day they welcomed home their Title-conquering heroes, quietly left the building. They each could have grabbed a yellow handkerchief to cry in on their way out the door.
The damn things were laying all over the place.