The Cardinals cruised over another hurdle Sunday afternoon in Glendale, and in doing so, took another baby step toward true credibility.
The "lose at home after a big road win" semi-trend they started to develop was wiped out by a resilient, confident comeback home win over a feisty Seattle Seahawks team.
The ‘Hawks came out from the get-go, playing with confidence and pride and taking a 14-point second quarter lead. But Kurt Warner teamed up with wide receiver Anquan Boldin and a suddenly solid running game jump started the Cardinals in the second half. The Big Red actually came home after a big road win to take care of business.
Things started out as they have before in the big barrel cactus in Glendale. After trading punts, Seattle struck first. They went a long way to get there, too.
It appeared to me and the rest of the Cardinal faithful that Boldin scored on a disputed call at the goal line that could have changed the complexion of the game.
The Cards got great field position when safety Micheal Adams downed a Ben Graham punt at the 1-yard line. After the defense once again stopped the Seahawks on three straight downs, the Cardinals got the ball back near midfield.
A long pass interference call against Seattle’s Josh Wilson, who was trying to cover Larry Fitzgerald, gave the Cards a first and goal at the 8-yard line. After RB Beanie Wells picked up four yards, Warner looked Boldin's way, but CB Marcus Trufant appeared to pick it off in the endzone.
Coach Whisenhunt must have heard me screaming "CHALLENGE IT!" from my premium seats just behind the Cardinals bench, and the red flag came out. The call was reversed and ruled incomplete. Warner went back to Boldin on the next pass; it looked like a touchdown, but was called a stop at the 1 yard line.
Again, I began to screaming “CHALLENGE IT!” But alas it fell on deaf ears.
OK, I admit my screaming among 63,000 others likely wasn’t heard either time, but why quibble?
Seattle stuffed Tim Hightower on 4th-and-goal from the 2-foot line, and the Cards turned the ball over on downs. The Seahawks then collected 68 yards on a reception/facemask penalty combo and three plays later, they had a 7-zip lead as the 1st quarter ended.
It got uglier, too.
Sensing an opportunity, ‘Hawks QB Matt Hassleback went no huddle and tried to build on the lead as well as deflate the increasingly noisy faithful. But the first of LB Clark Haggin's two sacks ended that drive.
Still, Warner and the Cards couldn't get on track.
Another three-and-out forced by the confident Seattle D brought a smattering of boos from the increasingly spoiled fans. Hassleback then led another drive that ended up in a TD, giving the visitors a 14-0 lead midway through the 2nd quarter.
This smattering of boos turned into a smothering, and the crowd let the team know its displeasure with its Jekyll and Hyde performance. It was like they were booing the guys that stole the Cardinals' red-on-red uniforms, hoping that team that started out a week ago in Chicago with four TDs to open the game would come streaming out of the tunnel in their skivvies, ready to take them back.
This band of misfits had three punts and a turnover on downs to start the game. This CAN'T be the same team...can it?
But Warner and company started to heat up. Another pass interference call set up a Warner to WR Steve Breaston TD connection, narrowing the margin to 14-7. There was LIFE! You could almost feel Warner getting his groove back.
To their credit, Seattle didn’t slow down. Hassleback again moved the ball down the field with apparent ease, but the Cards D stiffened, holding them to three points with about a minute to go in the half.
Warner then went to work again, completing five straight passes that took the ball from the Cards' 20 to Seattle’s 3-yard line before Warner spiked it to stop the clock with 16 seconds left in the half. The Cards didn't score a touchdown however, as LT Mike Gandy was called for a hold, and they settled for a Neil Rackers field goal to make it 17-10 at the half.
The Big Red and RB Wells came out swinging in the second half.
The suddenly red-hot Warner again completed five straight passes, as the Cards opened the half with a 13-play TD drive that took almost seven minutes off the clock.
Normally it would be potentially devastating when your team gets down to the opponent's 4-yard line, and a personal foul is called. That's exactly what happened when Wells got into a little smackdown with CB Deon Grant. This moved the ball back to the 19-yard line.
Being the rookie he is, Wells forgot (or never knew) the retaliation rule. It’s not written anywhere, of course. But it’s fairly common knowledge throughout the league that it's the second guy who retaliates after absorbing a punch, kick, or other indiscretion, that gets the hanky.
Warner then immediately went back to a motivated Wells, and it paid off.
The rookie took a pass for nine yards, then juked right on 3rd-and-1 from the 10 and took it in for the score untouched. The faithful exploded and the Cardinals secured their first lead of the day.
It was only the beginning.
Seattle tried to make it a see-saw affair, taking the ball from their own 7-yard line down to the Cards' 1-yard line. But the Cards defense would have none of it.
After two incomplete passes and a tackle for a loss, the best the ‘Hawks could muster was a field goal.
Warner, still focusing on getting/keeping Boldin involved, hit him for 10 yards on first down. Two plays later, he hit Q again over the middle and 37 yards later, Boldin was dragged down from behind by a horse-collar tackle at Seattle’s 13 yard line.
The next play was the kind that could make a grown Cardinals fan weep with joy.
Cardinals fans rarely see a strong, ambitious runner, or even a strong, ambitious running play. Wells took the ball at the 15, and plowed forward, leaving LB David Hawethorne in his wake. Then he hit Deon Grant, who bounced off him at the 4 and put Wells in a spiral that didn’t end until his churning, spinning, power push crushed Jason Babineuax in the endzone.
It was (sniff) a thing of beauty!
It also gave the Cardinals all the cushion they needed to complete the sweep of the former division bullies.
Sure, the never-say-die Hassleback and his team didn’t quit. But an Antrel Rolle interception with 3:42 left put the dagger in the comeback attempt, and safety Adrian Wilson’s heads-up, diving pick of a Hassleback shovel pass sealed the deal.
When it was over, the faithful were thrilled. They felt the weighty burden of yet another hurdle crossed. Warner ended the day with his 50th career 300-plus yard passing game (he had 340), and his two TD passes (Fitzgerald collected the second one in the 4th quarter) pushed him over 200 for his Hall of Fame career.
Boldin didn't score, but looked sharp and strong in putting together his first 100 yard receiving day of the year. Wells averaged over five yards per carry in picking up 85 yards to go with his second and third NFL touchdown, and Tim Hightower added another 37 yards. That gave the Cards two straight games where they collected over 120 yards on the ground.
Their 3rd down efficiency was weak (2-12), and getting down early wasn’t pretty. But this was just what the Cards, and the faithful, needed. A solid, come-from-behind win against a decent division team out for revenge.
As fellow scribe Chris Farmer says, next week's game is what's known in these parts as a ‘trap’ game against St Louis (who barely lost to the 8-0 Saints). There are no "gimmes" in the NFL, all records aside.
Let's hope this team keeps the ball rolling as they prove not only to the faithful that they’re a legitimate championship caliber team, but to themselves.