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.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Calais Campbell, Larry Fitzgerald, NFC Championship, Panthers, Patrick Peterson, playoffs
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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.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Wilson, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Packers, Patrick Peterson, playoffs
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Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin was blunt talking about rookie running back David Johnson.
“He could be special,” Goodwin said. “Very special.”
That’s an easy conclusion to reach after three touchdowns on just nine NFL touches, including a 55-yard touchdown reception and a 108-yard kickoff return. One thing coaches and teammates love about him isn’t his talent – although, yes, they love his talent – but his ability to be humble. Of course, he does have to absorb some grief.
“I don’t believe no one in this locker room is really reading their press clippings,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Well, maybe David. David is probably reading his.” Mathieu chuckled. “I’d be reading them too.”
Johnson chuckled himself when he heard Mathieu’s comments. “It was a little harder this week,” Johnson said, “but the coaches made sure I stayed grounded, and the players around me reminded me it’s a long season.”
It is going to be a long season. That’s why almost everyone around the Cardinals followed Bruce Arians’ lead this week in brushing off the 2-0 start. Playing the 49ers Sunday is both a step up in opponent and a foray into the NFC West, and the Cards understand both cannot be underestimated.
— No word on the offensive line as of yet. The fact Mike Iupati still has not been able to practice fully any one day has to raise a red flag, but we’ll see if he’s able to go against his former team Sunday. As for right tackle, Arians said Bobby Massie is better at pass protection and Earl Watford is better in run blocking. He’s also noted Watford has given up too many quarterback hits. The Cards like to the throw the ball. We’ll see if that impacts the decision.
— The 49ers are a grind-it-out team. That makes sense because a) they have a talented running back in Carlos Hyde and b) quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while he has made strides as a passer, still isn’t someone you’ll lean on the majority of the time.
Then there is Kaepernick’s ability to run himself, which will force the Cardinals to be on top of things while he scrambles around back there.
“From an awareness standpoint, I think our guys have to know that any down, any distance, he could tuck the ball and run with it,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said.
— Goodwin, talking about the Bears game Thursday: “Last week there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with in terms of hitting the quarterback, a couple of shots he took. (Carson Palmer) is going to get hit. We just have to minimize it.”
Friday, Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was fined $17,363 for his low hit on Palmer on the flea-flicker touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. McPhee was flagged for a personal foul on the play.
Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson was also fined $17,363 for his hit to the helmet of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Johnson did not draw a flag on the play.
— Don’t forget Adrian Wilson will be inducted into the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor at halftime of Sunday’s game. What was behind Wilson growing into one of the best players in franchise history? Take a look back at my “Making of A-Dub” piece from 2010.
— Bettcher said the defensive line has a “great rotation” right now, and that includes some snaps for Calais Campbell at nose tackle. In reality, the Cards don’t really use a true nose tackle – Xavier Williams has been inactive, and starter Rodney Gunter (whom Bettcher said is doing well) is more like a Campbell. Again, the Cards were going for versatile on the line this season.
— Campbell makes it on Sports Science.
— Will Larry Fitzgerald go off again this week? Who knows? Arians is always coming up with different things. Even Fitz knows things can change.
“Coach Arians is like a mad scientist,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s always finding ways to get guys involved, to create mismatches for his playmakers.”
— Anquan Boldin gets another chance at his former team. He’s said in the past playing the Cardinals is just another game, but frankly, I don’t believe him. Q is too intense along those lines to have it be otherwise.
“He’s a physical receiver,” Mathieu said. “He’s 100 percent for 4 quarters. I’ll be matched up with him so I have to bring my big boy pads.”
Tags: 49ers, Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Bobby Massie, Calais Campbell, Carlos Hyde, Carson Palmer, Coline Kaepernick, David Johnson, Harold Goodwin, Jay Cutler, Pernell McPhee, Rashad Johnson, Tyrann Mathieu
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It was shocking for many when the Cardinals cut Darnell Dockett earlier this offseason (at this point, it seems like two years ago) because he was set to make too much money. Then, in a fashion that was perhaps fitting with the defensive lineman, an inability to come to terms on a lower-priced deal with the Cards ended with Dockett signing with the division rival 49ers and Darnell promising a huge battle when he returned to University of Phoenix Stadium.
Except it’s not going to happen. Dockett, despite getting $2 million guaranteed from the Niners, is being released, so that might just say where Dockett is in his playing form. It’s tough for Dockett, who after ripping up his knee in the 2014 preseason has only played a little in the preseason after missing all last year. He’s currently dealing with a rib injury.
The first thing many wonder — and I know, because I was bombarded on Twitter — is whether the Cards might bring him back. No, I don’t see that happening. There is a reason the Cardinals were willing to release him in the first place. They wanted to get younger (Dockett is 34) at the position, and they have done that with Ed Stinson (who was basically drafted as a Dockett replacement) and Xavier Williams and Rodney Gunter and maybe even Josh Mauro. Maybe Dockett has just reached the end of the line. It happens, no matter how frustrating that can be for player or fans. To a much lesser extent, Dockett’s guns blazing going out the door — he didn’t have too many good things to say about the situation, in complete opposite of how Adrian Wilson handled his release once upon a time — doesn’t help.
UPDATE: Asked if the Cards might have interest, Bruce Arians said “not at this point.”
It’ll be interesting to see if he gets picked up, where and even when. At this point, Dockett may be the veteran who has to wait until after Week 1 to sign so that a team wouldn’t have to guarantee his salary for the season — so that if they feel he wasn’t working out, they could cut him. It’s the harsh reality.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett
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It’s been known for a long time that Adrian Wilson would be going into the team’s Ring of Honor — not just from when he retired earlier this offseason, but from the day the team released him in 2013 — but now we know exactly when. Wilson’s ceremony will come at halftime of this season’s home game against the 49ers on Sept. 27.
Unlike the two previous ROH inductees in Kurt Warner and Aeneas Williams, Wilson is already constantly around the team. No official job has been announced, but Wilson was at every day of the summer OTAs and minicamp helping out with the secondary and learning from General Manager Steve Keim.
Wilson will be the 15th member of the Cardinals’ Ring of Honor. The other 14: Warner, Williams, owner Charles W. Bidwill, Sr., coach Jimmy Conzelman, tackle Dan Dierdorf, halfback John “Paddy” Driscoll, halfback/defensive back Marshall Goldberg, cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane, halfback Ollie Matson, halfback Ernie Nevers, safety Pat Tillman, halfback Charley Trippi, cornerback Roger Wehrli, and safety Larry Wilson.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Ring of Honor
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High school coaches play a huge role in the lives of football players — and former Cardinal Adrian Wilson is going to be the keynote speaker in a first-time summit at University of Phoenix Stadium working to teach those coaches how to best guide those kids.
The event, which will be held Friday, was put together by the Arizona Foundation for Women and the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. The pilot program, called “Coaching UP,” puts in place a framework to teach healthy relationships, how to confront peer pressures, the detrimental impacts of underage drinking and substance abuse, and the trauma of head injuries sustained on the field. Coaches, athletic directors, principals and counselors from various high schools around the state will participate.
Wilson, who had his own tough times growing up before eventually making it to the NFL, makes sense as someone who can speak on the subject of making the right decisions. Not only did Wilson have a Ring-of-Honor-type career with the Cardinals, he has also become a successful businessman outside of football.
“Whenever I get the chance to speak with high school coaches, I always stress to them the importance of being a positive role model in their student-athlete’s lives, both on and off the field, as well as the importance of education,” Wilson said in a statement. “What their players will learn in the classroom can take them a lot further in life than playing sports.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson
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The Cardinals are going through rookie minicamp this weekend. They started Friday, it goes through Sunday, and it’s a chance for the draft class and the undrafted rookies to get some work on their own before being thrown in with the veterans. That’s a good thing — it was hard to go through two consecutive plays Friday without having a coach at some position verbally blister a player for a mistake. The Cards will come together as an entire team next week. There is one more week of Phase 2 work, and then OTAs start May 18.
— There are a lot of questions about Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly. Kelly is here as one of the quarterbacks (as is Phillip Sims of Winston-Salem State) because to have a practice you have to have quarterbacks. But both are only here on a tryout basis and I do not expect Kelly to be with the Cards beyond this rookie weekend.
— Click here for the entire rookie minicamp roster. You can see who is here on a tryout basis.
— It was interesting to hear Bruce Arians say first-round draft pick D.J. Humphries would be a backup as a rookie “in a perfect world.” It’s certainly a possibility with veteran Bobby Massie around at right tackle. We’ll see how this plays out.
— Arians praised cornerback Jimmy Legree on the first day. For those who don’t know Legree, he actually spent last season on the practice squad after making the roster through just this process — he was a tryout player at the 2014 rookie minicamp. So it can happen. Arians even thinks Legree has a chance to be in the mix at cornerback, although we’ll see what opportunity is there once the Cards figure out where, how and if Alfonzo Dennard fits.
— He may not have made any official decisions on his future, but Adrian Wilson was at practice Friday helping coach the safeties.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard, D.J. Humphries, Jimmy Legree, rookie minicamp, Taylor Kelly
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Day Two is in the books. Some quick notes and thoughts before I call it a night:
— After the trade Friday with the Ravens, the Cardinals have six picks on Saturday. There is a chance they won’t still have six by the time they draft Mr. Irrelevant to end the whole thing. GM Steve Keim said the trades might not be done. He mentioned a trade up possibility twice, so it’s on his mind.
“There are still a lot of guys (left) that Coach and I like,” Keim said. “We’ve had some conversations about going up (in a trade.) We will be active and aggressive. If there is someone we think that can help us, we will certainly make a jump at them.”
— As I noted in my story, Keim had Markus Golden on the brain Friday morning, long before the Cards were on the clock. That doesn’t mean they would’ve taken him no matter what, but they definitely feel good about the pick. Can he turn into James Harrison, as Bruce Arians suggested in who Golden reminded him of, well, we will see.
— The addition of RB David Johnson from Northern Iowa will help, but he’s got a long way to go to battle for the title of best Cardinal to come from Northern Iowa. That happens to be a quarterback who directed the team to the Super Bowl.
— Johnson will be in the mix for kickoff returns. “Yes indeed,” Arians said. “He and anybody else who can catch it,”
— Keim acknowledged the Cards were headed toward taking another offensive lineman Friday because of how their board fell. He made the point that another pass rusher or offensive lineman could end up another pick on Saturday.
— Nice job by Adrian Wilson making the announcement of the Golden pick. “Go Birdgang.” He’s a natural.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bruce Arians, David Johnson, draft, Markus Golden, Ravens, trade
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Former safety Adrian Wilson, who retired earlier this week, will indeed have a job for the Cardinals on draft weekend. No, he hasn’t accepted a role in the front office. (Not yet, anyway.) But he will be among an impressive group of former NFL stars on hand at the draft in Chicago to announce their former team’s second-round picks on Friday night.
Friday’s second and third round of the draft begins at 4 p.m. Arizona time.
This continues a theme of the last couple of years, having former players announce selections. This is the fifth year of the program. The Cardinals currently hold the the 55th overall selection (23rd in the second round), although you never know what can happen with GM Steve Keim’s potential wheeling and dealing.
Wilson, meanwhile, is expected at some point to join the organization in some capacity. He is close with Keim, with a relationship that dates back to Wilson’s freshman year at North Carolina State. While I don’t see him as a full-time coach, I could see Wilson helping with the defensive backs, and/or helping the front office in scouting or personnel. Wilson wasn’t committing to anything yet.
“I kind of want to take my time on that,” Wilson said. Monday. “There’s really no set timeframe in answering that question.”
Tags: Adrian Wilson, draft
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This is when you feel the legacy, on the day in which Adrian Wilson officially retires and when he talks about the guys who helped him when he got into the league, Pat Tillman comes up. It’s fitting this time of year, when the anniversary of Tillman’s death draws near. It’s easy to forget how important Tillman was to Wilson that one season they played together, in 2001.
“I didn’t know the first thing about the playbook,” Wilson said of his rookie season. “(Defensive coordinator) Larry Marmie’s playbook was so complicated, I couldn’t understand it. Pat sat me down for hours upon hours just going through the playbook just to go to practice the next day. It was that complicated for me. I owe big dividend to Pat.”
To think, Wilson was there to essentially replace Tillman.
(Wilson thanked other “old-time” Cardinals Corey Chavous, Kwamie Lassiter, Rob Fredrickson and Ron McKinnon for their help when he was starting out too.)
— When Wilson was released back in 2013, I covered a lot of the instant emotions and thoughts I had of his career in this post. But his retirement Monday brought some closure and, perhaps sooner rather than later, maybe bring Wilson back into the building on a consistent basis. He shrugged off his future right now, saying he wanted to “take my time on that.” He’s got four young kids. That’s his focus now, although there is little question GM Steve Keim likes having him in the mix. Team president Michael Bidwill noted that before the press conference, Wilson had his mock draft around, drawing a grin from Wilson.
“He’s made some improvements from his first mock that he showed me,” Keim said. “I think I sent him back to the film room.”
— Not only was Wilson’s family there, but his two buddies from North Carolina from when he was 10 years old, Adrian Mack and Anthony Johnson, were there Monday and it took me back to 2010 when Wilson invited me back to High Point to cover his high school retiring his jersey number and I was able to meet Mack and Johnson and do a big story on who Wilson really was as a person. Looking back on that article, through the prism of today, this quote stands out, about Wilson desperately wanting to leave a legacy.
“Nobody in my family has one and I’ll be the first,” Wilson said. “That’s something I think is more important to me than anything – leaving that right mark. I want to lay a foundation down where it doesn’t matter what generation you come from, you’ve got to respect what I did.”
— Bidwill will have Wilson go in the Ring of Honor, but that date is TBD. The schedule comes out tomorrow, and then the team must figure out what home games have which events, like Breast Cancer Awareness or Salute to Service, for example.
— Wilson admits he thinks about the Hall of Fame. I’ll have a separate post on that tomorrow, but it’s been tough sledding for safeties in Canton.
— There was a good group of former teammates on hand for Wilson today: Fitz, Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Rashad Johnson, Calais Campbell, Bertrand Berry, Quentin Harris, Damien Anderson, Rolando Cantu. Peterson even took the mic during the press conference to deliver a statement in front of everyone. Wilson was an important part of this franchise. He still should be.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Bertrand Berry, Calais Campbell, Damien Anderson, Hall of Fame, Justin Bethel, Michael Bidwill, Pat Tillman, Patrick Peterson, Quentin Harris, Rashad Johnson, Rolando Cantu
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