I actually heard the news from Larry Fitzgerald at first, after the Cardinals had finished the day’s OTA, that 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree had torn his Achilles, jeopardizing his season. That I’d be standing over by the receivers lockers was fitting, in a sense, because it will now be a player who once inhabited one of those lockers who must come to the forefront for San Francisco: Anquan Boldin.
First it will be interesting to see how Crabtree’s absence impacts the 49ers and, bigger picture, the NFC West. Crabtree had a big year in 2012 — he couldn’t have been Patrick Peterson’s favorite matchup — and no matter how loaded a team like the Niners might be, losing a player of that caliber can’t be a good thing (nor is it good for Crabtree, who is set to become a free agent after the 2013 season, but that’s for the San Francisco writers to dissect.) The bargain basement acquisition of Boldin in a trade with Baltimore gives the Niners a name to plug in to the void. What does Boldin have left (he turns 33 in October) will be seen, but it’s not like Boldin’s strengths have been something that time robs. He was never a speedster. It was about smarts and power and the will to get the ball. That’s still Q.
Still, if you are the Cardinals, you have to believe Peterson would do fine one-on-one with Boldin (or Mario Manningham or A.J. Jenkins or whatever receiver the Niners have left). In the case of the Cards, you still have to find a way to puncture the Niners’ defense and stop the running game behind that huge offensive line. But losing a star skill player can’t help the Niners, which mean it can only help their division brethren.
(For a good analysis of the situation, check out Matt Maiocco’s post.)
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Patrick Peterson
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I thought the day before free agency began was supposed to be quiet.
Instead, it most certainly has not been, not for anyone following the Cardinals. The Cards continued to make moves by cutting running back Beanie Wells — more on that in a minute — while NFC West foes Seattle and San Francisco set up trades for Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin and Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, respectively. Those teams were already set up for success and obviously, both players make them better.
(The deals, which can’t be made official before tomorrow at the earliest, are different in nature, though. The Seahawks gave up a three-pick haul for Harvin, including their first-round pick, and will need to sign him to an extension. The 49ers gave up just a sixth-round pick because everyone knew the Ravens were going to cut Boldin, and that could very well be a one-year rental depending on why direction the Niners want to go in 2014. Boldin has one year left on his contract. The Boldin deal can’t be completed before he takes a physical either, and that comes after he completes his trip to Africa with Fitz.)
In the meantime, the Cardinals let Wells go. Beanie always knew it was a likely result. He believes he can rebound from his knee problems at age 24 but they have dogged him for more than a year now. When healthy — heck, even when kind of healthy in 2011 — Wells could run over opponents with the best of them. He had some runs as a rookie on that 10-win 2009 team that made you wonder why he wasn’t playing more. But when you don’t catch passes or block tremendously well, when running is mostly what you do, you need to be able to do that often. He didn’t miss a ton of games before last season but going forward, with a new offense, the marriage between the Cards and Beanie didn’t make a lot of sense to continue.
Next at running back? Ryan Williams will get a shot, I’d think, depending on free agency. The Reggie Bush buzz will be floating out there until Bush signs somewhere. Maybe it’s him. Maybe someone else. Maybe the draft makes sense. But if you are certain you will get a big name back there, remember the Colts and Bruce Arians rode Vick Ballard last year and no one knew who Vick Ballard was before that. There has been zero talk about LaRod Stephens-Howling so I’m not sure if he is still an option to be re-signed. The overhaul continues.
Tags: 49ers, Anquan Boldin, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Percy Harvin, Seahawks
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It doesn’t matter when free agency starts, whether it is a “soft” opening like the NFL has tried this year or the normal start of free agency (deals can be consummated starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday) — there will be rumors and speculation. It’s always tough to know exactly where it’s coming from. Is the agent just trying to drum up a market for the player? Is it serious interest? Sometimes, it feels like the recruiting process in high school for an athlete — a player could have “interest” from Alabama and Michigan and LSU and Oklahoma, but was it a form letter sent out to dozens of players or was it a phone call from Les Miles?
(And yes, obviously an NFL player isn’t getting a direct phone call from a team right now, because of the rules.)
So it’s within this context that the news must be viewed of the Cardinals looking at cornerback Sean Smith, or interest in Reggie Bush, or return man Josh Cribbs. Obviously, the Cardinals are going to have to be active in free agency to a point, because they will need to fill out a roster that has shrunk through recent cuts. This is the new NFL by the way — Rick Gosselin notes 11 players who started 16 games this season have been cut already, along with three others who started 15 games (including Adrian Wilson.) It will be very interesting to see what kind of contracts are reached with many of these players on the market. The Ravens are looking for Anquan Boldin to take a pay cut, which he doesn’t want to do. It’s a tough time to be an older veteran, regardless of performance.
As for what might happen with the Cards, well, they’d like to re-sign cornerback Greg Toler and safety Rashad Johnson. There hasn’t been much talk about free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling and the Bush news — if accurate — would not bode well for the Hyphen’s return. Neither would someone like Cribbs. (It does seem like interest in Bush contradicts Bruce Arians’ concept of a three-down back, but reports are Bush has become better all-around in Miami compared to his Saints years.)
This week will be fun to watch play out.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, free agency, Greg Toler, Josh Cribbs, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Rashad Johnson, Reggie Bush, Sean Smith
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It seems now a lifetime ago, a few years before the Cardinals would even move into their new stadium and the culture shift within the organization just beginning to take root. But the Cardinals had a high pick — sixth overall — in the 2003 draft, a need for a pass rusher and a local kid who dominated on the college level who wanted very much to play for the home team. It seemed logical that the Cards would end up with Terrell Suggs.
They didn’t, of course. The Cards instead made a trade with the Saints, swapping the first-round pick for the Saints’ two first-rounders (17 and 18) and the teams also swapped second-round picks. That actually moved the Cards lower in that round as well. In the end, the Saints took defensive lineman Johnathan Sullivan, who was a wash-out. The Cardinals took defensive end Calvin Pace and wide receiver Bryant Johnson, each of whom had limited success (although Pace to parlay a decent 2007 season into a big free-agent contract with the Jets.) Of course, the Cards’ draft was made that year when, with the second-round pick, they took wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who performed like a first-rounder from jump.
Meanwhile, Suggs, who had 24 sacks in his final season at Arizona State, was taken 10th, by the Baltimore Ravens. That turned out pretty well for both him and the Ravens, and now he finds himself in the Super Bowl for the first time. That doesn’t mean the near miss with the Cardinals doesn’t still resonate, however.
“I was disappointed because I did want to play at home,” Suggs said during media day Tuesday on the Cards passing on him, “but it worked out better for everybody.”
Suggs began his prep career at Chandler High School a few miles from the Cardinals’ facility, eventually transferring to new (and burgeoning football powerhouse) Chandler Hamilton High School where he starred as both a defensive end and running back. Then he went to ASU where he dominated. The Cardinals were still battling perception around the league as a franchise, but Suggs wanted to stay right where he had made a name for himself.
The trade didn’t come out of nowhere — rumors of the Saints deal were floating around a day or two before the draft commenced — but it did leave an impact locally. Obviously, in hindsight, Pace (or even Pace plus Johnson) didn’t equal Suggs. On the flip side, no one would have guessed that day the Cards would have actually reached the Super Bowl before the Suggs-infused Ravens. (From the file of storylines-that-could-have-been: The Ravens and Suggs lost to the Steelers in the AFC Championship the year the Cards made it to the Super Bowl.)
“We had a hint that they might do (a trade), but I was thinking that they wouldn’t,” Suggs said. “I wasn’t surprised, but like I said, it was a rumor that they might do it so it didn’t catch me all off-guard. I was disappointed when they did, but like I said, that was 10 years ago and it all worked out for the best now.”
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Bryan Johnson, Calvin Pace, draft, Johnathan Sullivan, Ravens, Terrell Suggs
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The accomplishments certainly weren’t lost as the Cardinals went on their most exciting month-long journey ever back in the first few weeks of 2009, but I’m not totally sure what Larry Fitzgerald was doing in the playoffs that year could have been completely appreciated given the circumstances.
As the wins came and the Super Bowl got closer, talking just about one player didn’t make sense (let’s not get it twisted – Fitz still got plenty of attention over those five weeks of the postseason, and I just thumbed through his clip file if I hadn’t remembered). When you go back and think, however, it almost started innocently against the Falcons.
At that point, the Cards just wanted to win a playoff game, after the 2-5 slide on which they entered the postseason. Fitz had 101 yards on six receptions that day, including an acrobatic catch in double-coverage for a 42-yard touchdown. But that was early, and the moments burned more harsh in the brain were things like Anquan Boldin’s 71-yard catch-and-run TD on which he came up hurt, the Dockett/Rolle combo that created a fumble for a touchdown, and tight end Stephen Spach’s game-clinching catch.
Fitz had nice numbers, but that was supposed to happen.
The next game, though, that’s when the momentum began to build. And when Fitz truly exploded.
Boldin was injured. The Cards were on the road in Carolina. And yet Fitzgerald ran roughshod, finishing with 166 yards on eight catches, with 122 of those yards coming when there was still five minutes left in the first half and the Cards were in complete control. He caught another bomb in double-coverage. He did whatever he wanted against the Panthers (who shouldn’t have been surprised; he had seven receptions for 115 yards when the teams met earlier in the season in Carolina and instead they looked like they had no idea how to deal with him). When Fitz scored his TD – an amazing effort on a crossing route in which he dove for the pylon and scored – it was still the first half and yet it felt like an exclamation point had already been stamped on the game.
His numbers were incredible. The Eagles knew this. They insisted during the week they would not let Fitzgerald go off. A noble pursuit. Yet at that point, impossible to back up with actions. Fitzgerald had three touchdown catches in the first half (he finished with nine receptions for 152 yards). The Eagles slowed him down in the second half, but he had done enough damage. It had reached the expectation that Fitzgerald was certain to get 125 yards in a game, that every jump ball would be his, that he could do no wrong and would carry the team all the way to a title. I mean, Boldin was back for the Eagles, but at that moment, Fitz was alone in the receiving stratosphere, not only on his own team but the entire league. There was no question.
(Well, I guess there was some question. But what is the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl about if not hyperbole.)
In the Super Bowl, Fitz had just one catch in the first three quarters. He had finally been tamed by the famed Steel Curtain. Except he wasn’t, suddenly going off in the final 15 minutes during the Cards’ furious rally, coming up with six receptions and capping it all with that magical 64-yard catch-and-run that seemed destined to be the highlight to signify the Cards’ improbable championship. Then it wasn’t, instead a reminder of what could have been.
The loss didn’t take away from what Fitzgerald did, however. He had seven more catches for 127 yards in the game and he had played so well for so long some were even marveling about the plays he almost made. He set playoff records for catches (30), yards (546) and TDs (7). It was a performance for the ages. “A lot of those playoff catches, he had guys draped over him and he was just making plays,” fellow wideout Steve Breaston said at the time. “You did kind of wonder: When was anyone going to stop him?”
That postseason, the answer was never.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Eagles, Falcons, Larry Fitzgerald, Panthers, Steelers, Stephen Spach, Steve Breaston, Super Bowl
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
For this installment, we check out what was being said on the day some current Cards were drafted …
– Back in 2001, Adrian Wilson was kind of an afterthought on the first day of the draft. Back then, there were two days of the draft, with rounds one through three on Saturday. The Cardinals had the second pick overall, so offensive lineman Leonard Davis was the BIG story. The Cards also took defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch – who turned out to be a pretty good player, but after two blown-out knees and a coaching change sent him packing from Arizona – and cornerback Michael Stone. I wonder how A-Dub feels when he thinks how the great Michael Stone has a better draft pedigree than him.
Wilson was a surprise pick in some ways, because the Cards needed defensive line help more. He was raw. The Cards even briefly considered using him at cornerback at the time, believe it or not. I love the jump headline – “Could be a keeper for the Cardinals.” Uh, yeah.
– There was no question that first day of the 2004 draft turned out awesome – Larry Fitzgerald, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett – but that was what was thought at the time, too. While Fitz was celebrated, looking at Dockett’s quotes from the day resonate. “I’m going to be the next Anquan Boldin,” Dockett said, referencing Boldin’s outplaying of his draft status. And he was “disgusted” that teams passed on him before he went as the first pick of the third round. Turns out Darnell was right.
– The Cards traded up in 2007 to get Alan Branch, although it seems that it took until the end of 2009 and 2010 for Branch to really hit his stride. Of course, the big story of 2007 was the decision to take Levi Brown fifth overall (part one and part two here), but at the time, it didn’t seem as big of a deal as hindsight has portrayed. Of course, that draft was also highlighted by the late pick of Steve Breaston. It’s funny to see I thought Breaston’s big competition to make the team was LeRon McCoy.
– Then there was 2008, when the Cards got DRC and Calais Campbell on the first day. Apparently, one kidney and a small school wasn’t going to scare off the Cards from Rodgers-Cromartie, and his speed didn’t hurt. All things considered, that’s been a good pick – although we all understand DRC’s need for a big 2011.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Alan Branch, Anquan Boldin, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, draft, DRC, Karlos Dansby, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Larry Fitzgerald, Leonard Davis, Levi Brown, Michael Stone, Revisionist history, Steve Breaston
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
The Cardinals were sitting with the third overall pick in a draft heavy with quality quarterback options, so when the just-hired Dennis Green decided to cut incumbent veteran Jeff Blake in early February of 2004, it didn’t really raise any eyebrows (although it did lead to one of the greatest quotes I have ever collected, from Blake when talking about his career: “It’s not like I’ve played bad ball. I’ve just been on bad teams.”)
That changed quickly. So too did the future of the Cardinals.
Less than a week later, I happened to be at the Cards’ facility when Green was going to give what was expected to be an innocuous TV interview. No other reporters were there. Denny proceeded to say odds were “slim” the Cards would take a quarterback in the first three rounds of the draft.
“Josh McCown, I think he is going to be a great one,” Green said. Wait … what? I was stunned.
(So were a couple of other print reporters, who worked around their absence by coming the next day in an attempt to get Denny to repeat himself. He wouldn’t – not as strongly. At one point one reporter said, “We’re trying to get you to say what you told Darren yesterday.” Denny’s response was classic Denny: “That was yesterday.”)
McCown’s résumé wasn’t long. He had made the miracle pass to beat the Vikings in the season finale of 2003. He had five touchdowns and six interceptions in a three-game starting stint, but with a new coach, it just seemed like the Cards would nab someone like Philip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger.
The new coach was Green, however. As became evident soon, his belief in Pitt wideout Larry Fitzgerald – with whom Green was also close personally – was strong enough to make Fitz the Cards’ target. Clearly, Fitz was talented, and Green’s thoughts on what Fitzgerald could be have definitely played out over the years. Yet quarterback is always important, and regardless of how talented Fitzgerald would be, was it worth passing on what was available? You have to wonder, did it color Green’s evaluation of McCown? Because the only way the Cards could really justify taking Fitz at the time was the knowledge McCown could play. Green never was big with the draft smokescreens. I remember at the Scouting combine in 2005 he all but announced he wanted J.J. Arrington. In 2004, it was obvious he wanted Fitzgerald.
Draft weekend was a memorable couple of days. Pat Tillman’s death came to light on Friday, the day before the draft, overshadowing football. Then, as expected, the weeks of Green talking up McCown was capped when the Cards took Fitzgerald. (Green also kept to his word about the first three rounds, taking non-QBs Karlos Dansby and Darnell Dockett in one heck of a first-day draft haul. John Navarre was the QB selected, in the seventh round.) McCown was the Cardinals’ guy.
I believe the Cards would have taken Roethlisberger if they had decided on a quarterback. How different would things have been for so many connected to the Cards? Big Ben and no Fitz in Arizona probably would have meant Anquan staying and Kurt never coming. Would the Steelers – with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt – won a Super Bowl after the 2005 season? Would Whiz still have ended up with the Cards?
In the long term, it worked out well for the Cards. Warner and Whisenhunt did come to the desert, a combination that led to a Super Bowl appearance. McCown – one of the greatest guys ever to come through the Cards’ locker room – didn’t work out. But without him, there was no way the Cards take Fitzgerald, a potential Hall of Famer.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald, Ken Whisenhunt, Anquan Boldin, Kurt Warner, Darnell Dockett, Karlos Dansby, Pat Tillman, Dennis Green, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, John Navarre, Revisionist history, Josh McCown, Jeff Blake, J.J. Arrington
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In 2002, the Cardinals signed tight end Freddie Jones as a free agent. He had a good start to his NFL career while in San Diego, and he was an upgrade at the position. Turns out he was necessary that season too, because starting receivers Frank Sanders and David Boston each suffered injuries (as did MarTay Jenkins and Bryan Gilmore, the No. 3 and 4 guys) and with green wideouts like Jason McAddley and Nate Poole forced to play, a tight end was incredibly important.
So, for the one and only time since the Cardinals moved to Arizona, a tight end – Jones – was the team’s leading pass catcher in a season. Jones had 44 receptions for 358 yards and one touchdown that season. Jones was even better the next season, with 55 receptions for 517 yards (that was Anquan Boldin’s rookie year, though, with 101 catches). And in 2004, Jones had 45 receptions for 426 yards.
By 2005, though, Jones was gone. And the Cards have been searching for a tight end since.
As of now, that hope rests with third-round pick Rob Housler out of Florida Atlantic, a speedy 6-foot-5 H-back type who should be able to stretch the field. His blocking needs work, something he admitted already, but it would help to have a quality receiving option in that spot.
Since Jones left, it’s been a lot about hope unfulfilled. The undrafted tandem of Eric Edwards and Troy Bienemann was the first attempt. Then Leonard Pope was drafted, and while he flashed a couple of times, it was clear after 2007 and coach Ken Whisenhunt’s first season he wouldn’t be the answer. Ben Patrick – whose contract is expiring — also flashed a few times as a seventh-rounder (especially with his TD catch in the Super Bowl) but he never has made a huge impact and never had more than 15 catches in a season.
Granted, in the Warner years, using three- and four-wideouts made more sense, especially when the wideouts had the talent that the Cardinals did. Whisenhunt made clear Housler could be split wide at times and create mismatches, however. And, as many fans have pointed out, when you are breaking in a younger quarterback, the safety valve of a quality tight end can help with the learning curve.
Housler will get a chance to show what he has, and there is a chance the Cards also look in free agency. Jim Dray should be back, and Stephen Spach could be too; Patrick may be more iffy depending on who else is signed. The Cards will have at least four tight ends in training camp.
We’ll see if any of them can, at the very least, echo Freddie Jones.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Ben Patrick, Bryan Gilmore, David Boston, Eric Edwards, Frank Sanders, Freddie Jones, Jason McAddley, Jim Dray, Ken Whisenhunt, Leonard Pope, MarTay Jenkins, Nate Poole, Rob Housler, Stephen Spach, Troy Bienemann
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Took part in a mock draft (it’ll be on Patriots.com sooner rather than later) today and got another version of the top four. I wasn’t told who took who, but by the time my “pick” came up, these were the four gone — Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus and Blaine Gabbert.
(That was the order listed too; it’d be interesting to see if that matches the teams. Miller to Denver? Dareus to Buffalo? Gabbert to Cincy?)
I stayed chalk with my thought process in that regard. I stuck with defense and went with cornerback Patrick Peterson. But … obviously, wide receiver A.J. Green remains on the board in that scenario. Anyone reading my stuff knows I think receiver here is highly unlikely. Highly unlikely. The Cards already have a top receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and they clearly want/expect him to be here long-term. Bringing in a second such playmaker at that position — especially when you very well should be able to find a playmaker at another position (like Peterson, for instance) — makes little sense to me. You aren’t even sure you have a QB who can get it to Fitz yet, much less to two such guys.
That being said, there are those who’d like to see it (I’m looking at you, Georgiebird) and there are arguments that can be made, as long as you operate under the assumption the Cardinals see Green as an exceptional, off-the-charts talent. (I’m not saying they do, and there are those who don’t even think Green is better than fellow draftee-to-be Julio Jones). For the moment, let’s make that assumption.
The Cardinals aren’t sure if they can keep Fitzgerald, whose contract runs out after the 2011 season, long-term. He needs to sign an extension, and while both he and the team have said many times they want it to happen, Fitz has also made plain his desire to win, and that involves the fluid situation of finding a QB. Even if Fitz is a lifetime Card, the rest of the receiving corps is still in question. Steve Breaston doesn’t have a contract. Early Doucet hasn’t proven he can stay healthy. Andre Roberts, as well as he finished the season, hasn’t proven he will succeed.
Then there is the idea — again, depending on the grades we won’t know — that Green would be the best player available, too good to pass up. We’ve played this game before, back in 2007, when it was Levi over Peterson when Edge was around. Need was above “best player,” and maybe this year the need — other than QB — lies on the defense.
(But even then it’s not always cut-and-dried even when it works. Cards went BPA in 2004, because Fitz was the BPA. Would the Cards, who already had star-in-the-making Anquan Boldin, been better off with a top three class of Roethlisberger, Dansby and Dockett instead? Sure, Kurt Warner came along a year later, but it’s interesting food for thought).
I reiterate, I think the Cards go defense. I think Peterson would be the pick over Green. But there’s always room to speculate.
Tags: A.J. Green, Andre Roberts, Anquan Boldin, Ben Roethlisberger, Bengals, Bills, Blaine Gabbert, Broncos, Cam Newton, Darnell Dockett, draft, Early Doucet, Julio Jones, Karlos Dansby, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Steve Breaston, Von Miller
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As I complete what was a four-day weekend for me (i.e., don’t expect anything else today), just wanted to touch base after an interesting playoff weekend for the NFL:
– I don’t think the second interview for a defensive coordinator position came off last week, but I could be wrong. Maybe something was done over the phone, or pushed back. I don’t know. Obviously, if there is interest in a playoff coach — like Pittsburgh’s Keith Butler — that has been put on hold with the Steelers winning again. I don’t know if it means the Cards will move on or if they will continue to wait, or even if coach Ken Whisenhunt knows unofficially if he can or cannot get a chance at Butler. I think back to the Cards’ Super Bowl run, when Todd Haley becoming the Chiefs’ head coach was the worst kept secret around even though technically Haley was still coaching and hadn’t even had an interview yet. (And no, I’m not saying that is happening with Butler or anyone else, before someone runs with “Darren Urban is reporting Whisenhunt is having secret talks with a DC candidate.”)
– Senior Bowl week starts in a week, when every coach in the world descends on Mobile, Alabama. That too can be a place where candidates are found/interviewed.
– As I mentioned on Twitter, the Seahawks’ playoff run ended up mirroring the Cards’ 2009 playoffs (shootout home win then decisive road loss) than the 2008 team (home win and then shocking the world on the road to earn a home game in the NFC Championship).
– Man, did Santonio Holmes’ TD catch Sunday bring back some haunting memories.
– I am shocked Anquan dropped that pass. Although how does a defense like the Ravens’ give up third-and-19?
– Watching Aaron Rodgers dice up the competition every week, I keep thinking he would have done the same thing last year in the playoffs had Kurt Warner not come up with one of the greatest playoff performances ever. There was irony in that thought when people were trying to put into perspective how great Rodgers was against Atlanta — and he was, but still not quite up with Warner’s game versus the Packers.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Anquan Boldin, coaching staff, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Packers, Ravens, Santonio Holmes, Seahawks, Senior Bowl
Posted in Blog | 139 Comments »