It’s amazing how the experts always get proven wrong in sports.
At the start of the NFL season, I was hearing commentaries on sports talk shows that the Arizona Cardinals should have given the quarterback reins to Matt Leinart. Leinart was the future of the Cardinals, they argued. Why were they starting Kurt Warner, the experts questioned.
Now, some of those same voices are calling Kurt Warner the MVP of the NFL, as the two-time league MVP has guided the Cardinals to a 6-3 record and a four-game lead in the weak NFC West.
Sure, the season is far from over, but with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, and St. Louis Rams all sitting at 2-7, Arizona’s division lead seems pretty safe.
Watching the Monday Night tilt between the Cardinals and 49ers kind of reminded me of the old 49ers of the Steve Young era.
In those days, the 49ers were the best team in the division ahead of perennial doormats such as the Rams, New Orleans Saints, and Atlanta Falcons. San Francisco was able to run the table against those divisional foes and claim one of the top seeds in the NFC.
Those 49ers would blow out their opponents, and if they fell behind, find a way to rally in the dying moments and stick a dagger into the oppositions’ hearts.
Monday night felt like that with the way Kurt Warner’s Cardinals came back. Despite not having the lead at all the entire game and trailing San Francisco 24-23 with time running out in the fourth quarter, Arizona found a way to win.
(No, I’m not comparing Warner’s Cardinals to Young’s 49ers, but just talking about the similarity in terms of being able to beat inferior teams in the division, winning in magical fashion, and perhaps having a certain aura in a crucial game. You just had a feeling Arizona was going to pull it out on Monday night. That’s what this year’s Cardinals reminds me of.)
Warner, who finished 32 of 42 for 328 years and 3 TDs on Monday night, found Anquan Boldin for a five-yard major with under five minutes remaining, and the Cardinals, thanks to a last-play goal-line stand, won 29-24.
The Cardinals are now 4-0 at home, and 3-0 against NFC West opponents. They’ve blown out teams they should be beating (31-10 against Miami and a 24-point victory over Buffalo, which is suddenly free-falling). They’ve beaten the Big Boys (an OT thriller against Dallas) too.
As for the MVP race, sure, at the start of the year, New Orleans’ Drew Brees was getting a lot of attention for all his 300-yard games (and is averaging over 330 per game). The Saints, however, are 4-5, and might not make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Warner leads all NFL pivots with a 106.4 QB rating, and has a 70.6 completion percentage, with his team in all likelihood nailing down the division title soon.
No, Warner’s Cardinals is not the same team as "The Greatest Show on Turf" Rams that he’d guided in winning his two MVPs and a Super Bowl in St. Louis. The Cardinals this season, however, have been consistent on offense, scoring at least 23 points in all but one of their nine games.
And no, I’m not saying Arizona will win the Super Bowl. Not at all. But given the division the Cardinals are in, the way Warner has been playing this year (19 TDs with only 6 picks while averaging over 306 yards per game), Arizona could very well be a 10-win team. That’s no small achievement.
That’s a feat not accomplished by the Cardinals franchise since a three-year run in the mid-1970s, when the team was still based in St. Louis and were winning two straight NFC East titles in 1974 and 1975. (Of course, as you’d expect, the Cardinals didn’t win any playoff games either year.)
(And a side note: What’s with St. Louis having two teams named the Cardinals while the football Cardinals—from 1960 to 1987—were still in the Show Me State?)
The Cardinals will face the Seahawks at Quest Field in Seattle this Sunday, and with a victory, all but clinch the NFC West.
Arizona then faces two teams from football’s strongest division, a home game against the New York Giants followed by a trip to Philadelphia.
The Cardinals may well falter against the Giants and Eagles, but with home games coming up against the Rams (Week 14) and Seahawks (Week 17), along with the Minnesota Vikings in Week 15, reaching double-digits in victories isn’t that far-fetched after all.
For a franchise that has been in existence since 1920 and never appeared in a Super Bowl—though they won two NFL Championships (1925, 1947) before the Super Bowl era—the 2008 season appears to be a step in the right direction for the Cardinals.
After all, the Cardinals have made the playoffs just five times since winning their last NFL title 61 years earlier, and have won just one playoff game. This year, with a playoff spot all but wrapped up, can Warner and the troops make the franchise’s playoff history more respectable?
A fifth division title, 10 wins for the first time in 33 years. All in the cards for Arizona this season. And who knows what more?
All thanks to Kurt Warner, the man some didn’t want to see starting for Arizona. Great to see him finally getting the recognition he deserves. I'm a lot happier now than I was 10 months earlier...