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NFC Championship aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2016 – 11:18 pm

Larry Fitzgerald fought back tears.

The wide receiver has now played 12 NFL seasons. He doesn’t know exactly how many he has left – he has one year remaining on his contract – and at age 32, the end is much closer than the beginning. He also knows the NFL reality that coming as close as the Cardinals did to the Super Bowl, with the best team he’s ever been on, doesn’t necessarily happen more than once.

That’s why the pain was apparent on his face after Sunday night’s blowout loss in Carolina, a game that, frankly, the Cardinals never really were in. If the Cards had lost in a shootout, or a close game, Fitzgerald said, perhaps he could have dealt with it better, knowing the Cardinals at least made it a battle.

Instead, “we just didn’t have it today,” Fitzgerald said quietly. “And that really stings.”

Things will change. They always do in the offseason. Free agents will leave. New players will be signed and drafted. You hope that comes together. You hope that you can stay relatively injury-free, which the Cards – for the most part – were able to do this season. You hope that as a team you can build again, as the Cardinals have in each Arians’ season. Win totals have gone up and the postseason ladder has been climbed one rung at a time.

You hope. But as Fitz’s emotions explained, nothing is promised.

“The emotions are still so raw for me. So raw,” Fitzgerald said, when asked to assess 2015 as a whole. “In a couple days I might be able to have a little bit better answer for you. It really hurts.”

“Obviously,” Fitzgerald added, “I didn’t want it to end this way.”

— Carson Palmer stood up and answered the painful questions after the game. He took responsibility. He said “I” often and while there was plenty of things weren’t great on the rest of the team – the defense did not have its best game either – Palmer had to play well for the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl. He did not play well. He did not come close.

— While the Cardinals and Keim will continue to look for their quarterback of the future, Palmer is going to be the quarterback in 2016. He should be. He did not play well in the postseason but he was a deserving MVP candidate this year.

— Running back David Johnson was excellent, but it’s too bad the Cards got so far behind. He has definitely shown his future as the lead running back.

— The secondary as a whole was not good. Some of that was because of a lack of pressure on Cam Newton, but there were other mistakes. Justin Bethel was not the only player to get caught, but even Bruce Arians noted Bethel by name as someone who had a tough night. Arians added Bethel will get better. The Cardinals need him to.

— Among the free-agents-to-be are cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson. Both emphasized how much they want to return. But we will see how that plays out. I expect the Cardinals to try and get a Tyrann Mathieu extension done at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cornerback taken in the draft.

— The Cardinals will pick 29th in the NFL draft. There will be only 31 first-round selections after the Patriots surrendered theirs during Deflategate.

— There are a lot of other things to talk about heading into the offseason. But with the Cardinals done, there is time to get to all of that.

FitzAfterNFCblog


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Bryant active, Babin sits for NFC Championship

Posted by Darren Urban on January 24, 2016 – 3:09 pm

The Cardinals are healthy, and their inactive list for the NFC Championship reflects that. It’s notable that newcomer Jason Babin — who played just one defensive snap last week — will not be active for the game. Defensive tackle Red Bryant, who was inactive last week, is back in the gameplan. The full inactive list:

— QB Matt Barkley

— CB Corey White

— RB Kerwynn Williams

— LB Shaq Riddick

— LB Jason Babin

— T D.J. Humphries

— DT Xavier Williams


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Friday before the NFC Championship

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2016 – 4:44 pm

Soon, the Cardinals will know if they will play in Super Bowl 50. Not that they are looking at this game – Sunday night, NFC Championship, in Carolina – along those lines.

“You can’t get the Lombardi without winning the Halas,” Larry Fitzgerald said.

The veteran receiver knows how it works. He’s reminded of it all the time when he walks through the lobby of the team’s Tempe complex and sees the Halas Trophy from the 2008 season displayed. That trophy signifies the key to what was a marvelous two weeks back then, an ending that wasn’t derailed until the last minute. (We won’t go into that now.)

But those two weeks are a crucial point. The Super Bowl seems so far away, both in time and as a journey. Traveling to Carolina comes first – that’s Saturday morning when the Cards leave – and then a game.

I believe the Cardinals are mentally in the right place for this game. A lot can happen in the game itself. I expect a close game. And the Cardinals can try and close in on an NFC title. After that, there will be plenty of time to talk about what’s next.

— It’s hard to get past the feeling that a turnover or two will decide this. These two teams are the ones who have forced the most turnovers in the league (39 for the Panthers, 33 for the Cardinals).

— The most glaring issue on offense in the Cards’ last two games was how the offensive line/protection/blocking got off to slow starts. Something to watch for in the first quarter Sunday night. The Panthers have a helluva front seven. The Cards have to hold up.

— During the Biggest Red Rage Thursday night, cornerback Patrick Peterson said he’s actually down to 199 pounds, a far cry from the listed 219 he played at last season, and down a few from the beginning of the season. He said he could still hang with tight end Greg Olsen if needed, though.

— I’m interested to see if they indeed would put Peterson on Olsen at any point.

— Will weather be a factor? I don’t think it will, as long as the forecast doesn’t change. It might be cold – it’ll dip to near freezing during the game – but Fitzgerald was telling me a couple of weeks ago before the Seattle-Minnesota freezefest that it’s actually not bad for players. Heaters on the sidelines, in the mat the players stand on, big coats. It may be chilly when a drive starts, but that changes quickly as the plays mount.

— For the record, three coldest games (by kickoff temperature) the Cardinals have played this season: 37 degrees at Philadelphia, 45 degrees at Pittsburgh, 49 degrees at Seattle. The Panthers were 41 degrees at NY Giants, 43 degrees at home against Seattle in the playoffs, and 50 degrees home against Washington.

It is supposed to be about 37 degrees and clear at kickoff for the NFC Championship.

— Arians, asked how valid it was that players will listen to players more than they listen to coaches.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Arians said with a smile. “If I want to get a message to Carson, I tell Drew (Stanton), you know.”

— Not only is Fitzgerald the only player (minimum three postseason games) to average 100 yards and a touchdown in his postseason career, he could go catchless Sunday and he would still average 100/1. Right now, Fitzgerald has 912 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight postseason games.

— Fitzgerald, by the way, was fined $23,152 for his illegal crackback block against the Packers last week.

— Ring of Honor member and former safety Adrian Wilson, now working in the Cardinals’ personnel department as a scout (and famously celebrating with Fitzgerald after his touchdown last week) is the Cardinals’ honorary captain for the game Sunday.

— If you want to see the Cardinals off Saturday, there is a rally at the airport starting at 10 a.m. Click here for the details.

— Defensive tackle Calais Campbell was a rookie in 2008, when the Cardinals went to Carolina to play in the Divisional round and were viewed, as Fitzgerald put it, as “roadkill.” That was the day the defense ruined Jake Delhomme for good, and because of a turn of events, earned a chance to host the NFC Championship game against the Eagles.

Campbell was a backup fill-in then. Now, he’s a Pro Bowl star trying to lead the defense. Yet, as he considered things, he’s not sure things on a fundamental level, are much different.

“Back then you just didn’t want to mess up,” Campbell said. “You just wanted to do your job. It’s still kind of the same case. The biggest thing is just doing your job. Making it just another game of football. It is just one game. You can’t go out there and try to do too much more than your job.

“As a captain and a leader of the team, I want to make sure that I work with the younger guys. Make sure they’re focused and they’re disciplined, and they can realize that it just takes doing your job. You don’t have to do anything extra.  Just do what you’ve been doing all year. Do what got us here.”

The Cardinals are 14-3 after all. Maybe Campbell once again will be able to celebrate in a drizzle on the Panthers’ home field. Maybe he and his teammates will bring home that Halas Trophy.

See you in Carolina.

Victory Shower


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WR coach Drake earns award

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2016 – 8:03 am

Pro Football Focus decided to hand out awards for position coaches for the first time this season, and the Cardinals had a winner — wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, who shepherded Larry Fitzgerald through his transition to inside receiver and Smokey Brown’s transition to the NFL and Michael Floyd’s evolution to consistent downfield threat.

What PFF had to say about Drake:

Drake may have had a superior set of talent to work with, but he squeezed the best out of every one of his players. All six receivers seeing playing time graded positively this season, and all but one improved over the previous year. And it wasn’t just their receiving prowess that shined—they did a more than competent job blocking for the run, finishing the year as our second-highest graded unit in that regard.

Drake wasn’t the only one mentioned in the article. Harold Goodwin, fresh off his first head coaching interview, was named first runner-up as the top offensive coordinator, behind only Mike Shula of the Carolina Panthers.

drakeblog


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No risk it, no biscuit, no regrets for Arians

Posted by Darren Urban on January 21, 2016 – 12:46 pm

So Saturday, Bruce Arians was blunt when saying why the Cardinals threw the ball with a little more than two minutes left and the Packers having no timeouts on second-and-8: “I play to win.” In the couple of days since, Arians admitted a run had been called but there was a pass option for quarterback Carson Palmer, and when Palmer saw 10 men in the box and Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one with cornerback Sam Shields, Palmer decided to take the shot.

We know the result: An incompletion, and even with a run on third down, the Packers were left with 35 or 40 more seconds on the clock then they might have had. That was then, and this is now. Arians was asked if the results might influence how the play might be called if a similar situation comes up again — say, Sunday night in Carolina.

“No,” Arians said. (He always starts out blunt, right?) “We had the running play called and it was a bad running play. We had 10 guys, we’ve got Larry Fitzgerald one-on-one, that’s as good as a running play.”

In terms of play calling, Arians said the same about the decision to blitz Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary instead of keeping a bunch of guys deep. “I don’t know if anybody else can make that throw, but we had them dead to rights and we didn’t defend the back end.”

The second-down playcall caught the attention of many national types (Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were certainly disagreeing while calling the game for NBC) but anyone watching this team knows that’s how Arians operates. And even if he does start with a running play, Arians also puts full trust in his quarterback, which is why Palmer gets the option to throw and why Arians backs his play.

It’s not always conventional. It has worked (Saints, 49ers) and it hasn’t worked (Ravens). But it’s not going to change, not in the NFC Championship, and not in what is possible beyond that.

Riskitblog

 


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The biggest Big Red Rage coming Thursday

Posted by Darren Urban on January 20, 2016 – 4:59 pm

Before the Cardinals head off to Carolina, there first will be a pumped up “Big Red Rage” radio show — officially, “The Biggest Red Rage” — coming Thursday night at Majerle’s at Chandler Fashion Center and presented by San Tan Ford. Not only will it be double in size, from one hour to two (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.)

BRR will have normal hosts Calais Campbell, Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley, but it will also feature guests like team president Michael Bidwill, cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, among others. Admission and parking are free. For those who can’t make it, you can listen on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM or watching streaming video on azcardinals.com/videos-photos/live-video.html.

San Tan Ford is also giving away a two-year lease on a brand new Mustang. Sign ups for the car begin on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. and go through 5:30 p.m. A finalist will be selected every hour and the winner will be announced at the end of the “Biggest Red Rage.”


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Fitzgerald’s love letter to Arizona

Posted by Darren Urban on January 19, 2016 – 3:25 pm

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald penned an article for The Player’s Tribune Tuesday, talking about his love for Arizona, the fans and his career as a Cardinal.

It’s a relationship that, at times, wasn’t always a lock to work out, given where the team was and Fitz’s salary was at certain times in his career. But if there ever was uncertainty that this marriage wouldn’t last forever, that was taken care of last February when Fitzgerald got a new contract that cut his overall pay but raised his guarantees, paying him $22 million for 2015 and 2016. After that, we’ll see. A new deal? Retirement? The latter seems nuts after a season in which Fitz had 109 catches, but you never say never. Calvin Johnson is talking about retirement himself. If Fitz does keep playing, I can’t see him doing it anywhere but Arizona.

His article, tracing his feelings of coming to the desert back in 2004, the emotional ride (and loss) in the Super Bowl season of 2008 and his feelings about this current team, is heartfelt. An excerpt:

Not many people realize that Phoenix is now the sixth-largest city in the United States. As this place grows (and grows, and grows), I think it’s important for there to be something that unites everybody, from the recent transplants to the native Arizonans who have lived here their entire lives.

I want the Cardinals to be that thing.

I want the Cardinals to be a team that you’re proud to root for and can’t wait to watch play. I want the entire state to always be itching for gameday to arrive.

There’s still work to be done — but we’re getting there. In fact, I think there’s only one, large, final box left for us to check off:

Win a Super Bowl.

Nothing less.

FitzAZBlog


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Palmer and his kids, away from football

Posted by Darren Urban on January 19, 2016 – 8:29 am

We take a break from our regularly scheduled football programming to show this cool video of Carson Palmer and his kids. Yes, it’s a commercial. But it’s a cool commercial showing Palmer as a father — which, considering he’s not all that fond of opening that window into his personal life all that often, is impressive to see.

We all see the guy as quarterback, and people have their opinions of him good and bad, depending on the game. Here is another side. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

UPDATE: Palmer talked about doing the piece. “It was something I put off for a long time,” Palmer said. “I’m very private, as you guys (in the media) know and talk about a lot. We been so well received in the state, and the fans have been so great and gracious and welcoming, and you realize after a while people want more. People always want more, fans want more, they want to see a different side of you. This was an opportunity with Dove Men Care to do something totally outside the box.

“It was something I pushed off and not wanted any part of for a long time. It was a lot of fun. My wife said she cried the first time she saw it. She is excited to have that to look back on in 2025 when this part of our life is so distant. It’s a great memory for us.”


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Keim: Cards didn’t play well, but were resilient

Posted by Darren Urban on January 18, 2016 – 8:18 am

There are going to be close games in the playoffs, Cardinals GM Steve Keim acknowledged. He also said during his appearance Monday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that “I didn’t think we played particularly well” Saturday night against the Packers. (Which you could kind of see as Keim walked off the sideline following Fitz’s touchdown. Among the sea of celebration, Keim wasn’t smiling. He didn’t look mad, but he looked like someone who knows the Cards have to play better to reach the Super Bowl.)

Keim’s greatest praise came for the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd, saying the atmosphere was great that that “it gives me chills” to think about the white towels waving.” The Cardinals won’t get that in the NFC Championship, since the game will be in Carolina. Maybe that’s why Keim noted the improvements that have to be made.

— Keim noted that, aside from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, “I don’t think a ton of guys played great.” But the Cardinals were resilient, Keim added, which has been a hallmark of the team all season.

— On the 75-yard Fitzgerald catch in overtime, “what was the better play, Larry or Carson?” (As great as Fitz was on the run, Palmer made that thing happen.)

— Keim said he does not believe Palmer’s injured finger was a factor in Palmer’s game — which featured a few near-interceptions, aside from the two he threw. In the first half, Palmer had too much pressure in his face, Keim said. In the second half, Palmer just missed on some throws.

— The offensive line “played hard,” he said, but made mistakes, especially with second-level blocks. The run game has to produce more.

— On defense, pressure was sporadic (Keim wouldn’t touch the notion the Packers weren’t called enough for holding) and there were some mixups in the secondary and in gap discipline. Keim said he hadn’t yet talked to coaches about the last Packers drive, particularly the fourth-and-20 the Packers converted on a 60-yard pass when Jeff Janis got behind cornerback Justin Bethel. That can’t happen, Keim said, and he also said he thought a safety should have been over the top. “That’s Football 101, to be in the right place at the right time.”

— Finally, asked about Bruce Arians’ decision to throw the ball on second-and-8 with some 2:25 left in the game and the Cardinals up four points, Keim pointed out that the Cards threw up five with 1:44 left on second-and-8 in the season opener against the Saints. Running back David Johnson took that pass and scooted for a 55-yard touchdown.

“You know our style, you know our aggressiveness,” Keim said. “We play to win.” But was he nervous on that play? “Not at all. I trust our coach and I trust our players.”


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Packers aftermath, heading to NFC title game

Posted by Darren Urban on January 17, 2016 – 1:09 am

Where to begin.

Let’s start here: I can’t recall a crazier ending for the Cardinals. Ever. That playoff win against the Packers back in the 2009 season was back-and-forth too, wild swings of emotion, but that was simply offensive football played at an incredibly high level. I’m not sure exactly what Saturday night was.

There was one guy playing at a high level. It was Larry Fitzgerald, and that’s the best place to start. I think Fitz had already made a strong Hall of Fame case. But what he did Saturday, basically jump-starting a moribund Cardinals offense by himself, and then making that play in overtime to race 75 yards and set up the (well, his) game-winning touchdown. I know there isn’t much more to be said about Fitz that hasn’t already been said, but Saturday night? That’s how legends are made. They are made with epic playoff performances like Fitz had in the 2008 Super Bowl run, and they are made with 176 yards on eight catches in a dramatic overtime win against the Packers to put your team in the NFC Championship.

— Next, Carson Palmer. It wasn’t Palmer’s best game. During the game there were plenty in the Twitterverse that blamed Palmer’s issues with his Bengals background. There is no question Palmer was off at times and that end zone interception was, in a word, terrible. You can’t do that in that situation.

But Palmer bounced back as Bruce Arians always says he does. He was under more pressure than the Cardinals can afford to let him be under – the Packers had the better pass rush this time around. And the way Palmer miraculously spun out of what should have been a sack and somehow found Fitz on the 75-yard play was as critical and clutch as Fitzgerald’s effort on the other end.

— Palmer gets his first playoff win. It wasn’t perfect, but who cares? Not Palmer, that’s for sure.

— The first person in the end zone after Fitz’s TD to congratulate Fitz was former teammate-turned-scout Adrian Wilson. A great moment.

— Speaking of Wilson, he stood next to Justin Bethel tucked in Bethel’s locker after the game, quietly talking to the cornerback for a long time. I would guess it was words of encouragement after some tough moments for Bethel, not the least of which being Jeff Janis getting behind him to convert that fourth-and-20 play at the end of the game.

— The game was so nuts that the touchdown pass to Michael Floyd that was intended for Fitz, deflected high into the air and toward the back of the end zone, over the head of another Packer and Jaron Brown, is a footnote.

— Floyd, about that play: “I think God was on our side on that one.”

— Here’s a new one: Patrick Peterson was sitting on the floor in the locker room having athletic trainer Michael Blankenship remove tape off his ankle, when a reporter wandered over to ask him a question. Soon, Peterson was surrounded by media – so he sat on the floor, outstretched legs in front of him, propped up by his arms, doing his entire media session.

— Linebacker Kevin Minter, on watching Fitz tonight: “That’s that guy I watched growing up.”

— The Cardinals blitzed Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary. They did it from his right so he couldn’t roll into his power. And he still escaped and flung a great pass so his guy would have a chance. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the other guy. I’m guessing the Packers – after the hurt wears off – will do that with Fitz. And you have to do it to Rodgers.

— Sure, the Cardinals could have run the ball on second down, right before the two-minute warning and their final field goal. They could’ve burned up another 35 or 40 seconds. But Arians went for the kill. “I play to win,” Arians said. No risk it, no biscuit. I’m sure there are those who have issues with the call, but folks, if you are following/rooting for this team, this is what you signed up for.

— I could write more, but it’s time to go home. Got to get some sleep so that I’m up in time for Seattle-Carolina. It’s on to the NFC Championship.

FoitzBlog


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