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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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Cards’ inactives include Bryant, K. Williams

Posted by Darren Urban on January 16, 2016 – 4:44 pm

The Cardinals are able to have seven healthy inactive players today for the game against the Packers, which includes a couple of guys who have not been inactive of late: DT Red Bryant and RB Kerwynn Williams. The latter is important because it signals a comfort in the health of Andre Ellington in the backfield (although David Johnson is expected to remain the workhorse.) No Williams means the Cardinals will use someone different on kickoff returns (J.J. Nelson? Brittan Golden? David Johnson again?)

Bryant’s name is somewhat of a surprise with the injury to Cory Redding — especially since Xavier Williams is still inactive. With rookie linebacker Gabe Martin active, maybe the Cards wanted someone to fill in on special teams since Kareem Martin will have to play more defensive snaps (and Jason Babin, who is active, doesn’t do that.)

The full list:

—  QB Matt Barkley

— CB Corey White

— RB Kerwynn Williams

— LB Shaq Riddick

— DT Red Bryant

— T D.J. Humphries

— NT Xavier Williams


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Friday before the playoffs and Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 15, 2016 – 12:30 pm

Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.

No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.

Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.

A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:

Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams

This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.

This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.

— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.

— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.

“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.

“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”

Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.

— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.

— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”

Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.

— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.

— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.

— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.

— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”

— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.

This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.

MoneyMike


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Chip Kelly comes to the NFC West

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 12:14 pm

It certainly hasn’t been quiet in the Cardinals’ division, even with the regular season over. The Cardinals and Seahawks are among the final eight teams in the playoffs. The Rams moved to Los Angeles. And now the 49ers, wanting to make sure no one forgot about them, went out and hired Chip Kelly as their new coach.

It’s an interesting pick. Whether Kelly was their first choice or — as some reports have said — they turned to Kelly after they couldn’t get Hue Jackson (who went to the Browns), it’s a drastic change from Jim Tomsula, that’s for sure. The immediate reaction? That assumed divorce between rehabbing QB Colin Kaepernick and the team might not happen — Kaepernick would seem to be the perfect type of QB for Kelly’s system, to the point many wondered this season if Kap was cut would the then-Eagles coach Kelly snap him up — and also how the relationship will work between Kelly and GM Trent Baalke. But we’ll see how quickly Kelly can get that team changed up after a very rough 2015.

The Cardinals have done fine against Kelly’s Eagles, winning two of three, including the division-clinching rout in Philly this season.

I’ll say this, the NFC West certainly isn’t boring.

Bruce Arians, Chip Kelly

 


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Mixed messages from the Packers

Posted by Darren Urban on January 14, 2016 – 9:49 am

At this point, it’s become clear that, at least publicly, no one is expecting a score in Saturday’s playoff game like the first time the Cardinals beat the Packers. Still, it was weird to hear complete opposite notions come from the Packers in the last couple of days.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on Monday: “We’re no underdog going to Arizona. I don’t care what people think or how we’re picked or things like that. We’re going out there to win, and we expect to win.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday: “We’re going in as the underdogs. We’re going to be loose and ready to go, and it’s going to be their stadium, it’s going to be rocking, but the pressure’s going to be on them.”

Technically, the Packers are the underdog. The point spreads say so, the circumstances say so (the Cards are at home, they had a better regular season, yada, yada, yada.) But what does all the Pack talk mean? It means the talk leading up to a game doesn’t really mean much. The Cardinals have been consistent in saying the Packers are a different team than the first time they met, but other than a couple of injury situations, that’s not true. The Cards still have a deeper roster. The Packers might be playing better, but the sample size — one game — is awfully small.

The Cardinals will have pressure on them. When you are 13-3, you are expected to win at least one playoff game. But it’s not like they are playing, say, the Bears. They are playing a team with a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with a fan base that has such high expectations that some were wondering if the Packers needed a coaching change this season — a season in which the Packers won 10 games. At this point, pressure is everywhere.

MessageBLOG


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No trash talk for Fitz — just “professional”

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2016 – 2:46 pm

There was a good story in the Wall Street Journal today talking to defensive backs who have battled Larry Fitzgerald over the years. Many like to trash talk. None trash talk Fitz, because, frankly, Fitz is too nice. “He’s asking how you’re doing, how your family is,” said former Panther and current Viking Captain Munnerlyn.

Fitzgerald wasn’t quoted in the story, but he was asked about it today.

“I’m just one of the guys, honestly,” Fitzgerald said. “Guys talk crazy to me, I usually don’t say anything, but if you are just talking regular … I’m not trying to lure anybody to sleep. He’s got a job to do, I’ve got a job to do. I’m just professional about my job. I’m not trying to hurt anybody or do anything malicious. At the end of the day, I’ve got a family to feed just like he does and we’re going to go out there and do our best, and the best man is going to win.

“I think there is a professionalism you can take to it. I just try to be respectful to the game, respectful of players who play it, because this game was great before I got here and it’s going to be great after I leave.”

KindFitz


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Now, Cardinals will visit L.A.

Posted by Darren Urban on January 13, 2016 – 8:10 am

At least for now, the NFL has settled — finally — what will happen with teams possibly moving to Los Angeles. It was a lot of talk and speculation, especially over the last year or so, but in the end, what went down seemed the most likely scenario from the start. The Rams are leaving St. Louis and going back to Los Angeles, where they once left (in 1994, when Aeneas Williams broke up that pass, pictured below, to Flipper Anderson) to move to St. Louis.

The Rams moved, of course, after the Cardinals left St. Louis to move to Arizona. But that isn’t why this matters now to the Cardinals. This move matters now because it means the Cards now have a different trip every year within the NFC West. Now, instead of a flight to St. Louis, it’s a quick hop to L.A. for one division game a season (if there is a road night game now against the Rams, no more getting home in the really wee hours. So there’s that.)

The other reason it’s important is because the speculation can now stop about whether a team might have to switch conferences (and whether that team might have to be the Cards, which I never really thought anyway.) There was talk that if the two AFC West teams were L.A.-bound (Chargers and Raiders) then one would have to switch to the NFC West and an NFC West team would have to go to the AFC. Now, never mind.

The Chargers and Raiders are in limbo. The Chargers have a year (and maybe two, if you look at the details) to decide if they want to leave San Diego for Los Angeles. The Raiders have to figure out some things. And the Rams are going to have a JerryWorld-type stadium in a few years, which the Cards will get to visit every fall.

It also figures to increase the stakes in the NFC West. Not that Rams ownership didn’t have money to spend before, but with a stadium/complex that will likely cost near $2 billion when it’s all said and done, the Rams are going to push hard to win in a division that has been difficult anyway.

Aeneas Williams

 


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Divisional playoff date sells out

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2016 – 11:43 am

It didn’t take long — officially less than an hour, and anecdotally, even less time than that — but the Cardinals’ game Saturday against the Packers is sold out. There are definitely tickets out there on the secondary market, from what fans are telling me, but the team has no more.

What that means for the crowd makeup at University of Phoenix Stadium is yet to be seen, but I don’t see how there will be as many Packers fans this time around as there were for the last meeting. In that game, Green Bay fans had months to plan for the trip and line up tickets. That game was also Christmas weekend, a time when it was easy for people to be off from work and make the flight out to Arizona.

Yes, I know there are Packers fans around everywhere. And I still expect to see some green. But as quickly as the tickets were sold out, I think the crowd will be very much red come Saturday night.

The game, by the way, will be the 104th straight sellout at University of Phoenix Stadium — every game the Cardinals have ever played in the building.

SelloutBlog

 


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Keim: Cards healthier after bye

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2016 – 8:05 am

There wasn’t much new to talk about this morning when General Manager Steve Keim made his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. That happens when the Cardinals don’t have a game. But Keim did note that the Cardinals’ bye gave certain players needed rest — the roster should be fairly healthy by the time game day rolls around. Keim specifically noted that running back Andre Ellington benefited as he continues to work with his sore toe, and quarterback Carson Palmer got another week to take care of his sore finger.

A couple of other Keim thoughts:

— The Packers ran the ball much better Sunday in Washington. Offensively, they “looked like they got some of their swag back,” Keim said. We’ll see how much that had to do with going against a defense that was down near the bottom of the league.

— As for facing a team that the Cards beat up, 38-8, a few weeks back, “I’m sure they will use that last game as some fuel to their fire,” Keim said. It’s kind of the opposite of what the Cardinals would deal with against the Seahawks. A little bit, at least.

— Keim fully expects the Packers to have “some different wrinkles.” “We just have to focus and have intensity,” Keim said.


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Wild Card weekend aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on January 10, 2016 – 9:07 pm

The Cardinals didn’t play this weekend but there was football that meant something from their perspective. The NFC games Sunday determined their first playoff opponent — it’s the Packers — and now, the build-up for a postseason game many on the team have been waiting for since that rough loss in Carolina at this time last year.

The NFC results weren’t a shock. The Seahawks are a better team than the Vikings. The Packers are better than Washington. Of course, the way the Seattle-Minnesota game played out, the Seahawks should be eliminated by now. They aren’t. So we see who will come out of the very interesting dogfight between the Seahawks and Panthers, and if the Cardinals can beat the Packers a second time, whomever they play in the NFC Championship will have gone through the gauntlet to get there (and the Cards could still host that game if the Seahawks win.) But there will be time to look at that. As for the games that were just played:

— It’s hard to believe the Seahawks won. Not because they played poorly, but because the Vikings put themselves in a spot to win and should have. To see Blair Walsh just yank a 27-yard field goal left is simply crushing for that team. Seattle did enough. The frigid weather was clearly a factor, but it was not Russell Wilson’s best game. And if anyone was thinking momentum was going to carry over from that season finale romp over the Cardinals, well, it didn’t (which is the other side of why the Cards kept saying that game wasn’t going to matter either.)

— Speaking of Walsh, this is a great story about him after the game. Something to think about the next time a player doesn’t make the play — and when fan disappointment has a chance to become more than that.

— The Packers looked a ton better Sunday than they did in their final two games in Arizona and Minnesota. Then again, Washington’s defense has a much worse defense than both the Vikings and Cardinals. I’d expect a better showing from Green Bay this week, but the Cards will rightfully be favored.

— There is hope from the Packers they will get cornerback Sam Shields back from his concussion, but they thought they’d have him back this weekend too and it didn’t happen. Other key injuries for the Packers to watch: left tackle David Bakhtiari, who remained out with an ankle injury (he missed the first game against the Cards) and wide receiver Davante Adams, who said he expects to be ready after hurting his knee Sunday, but you have to wonder even if he can what his effectiveness will be, especially on a short week.

— The Cardinals are off Monday still. They return to practice Tuesday.

AftermathWldcardBLOG


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