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Spoiler alert

Posted by Darren Urban on December 21, 2012 – 9:37 am

The playoffs are a long-ago dream, but the Cardinals still can have a hand in it. This week, the Bears — reeling as they are — come to town losers of 5 of their last six after a 7-1 start. Once the playoffs seemed a foregone conclusion. But if Minnesota pulls off an upset in Houston in an early game Sunday, then the Cardinals would eliminate the Bears from the postseason if they can beat Jay Cutler’s crew.

“In order for us to be relevant, we have to win,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “This time of year everybody knows what has to happen for their football team. We are aware of the path we have to take.”

The Cards actually could be in position to do some damage in both the final two games. In the finale at San Francisco, the 49ers could have something on the line. If the Niners lose in Seattle this weekend, they could actually lose the division title the following week if the Cards won. Even if the Niners clinch this weekend by toppling the Seahawks, San Francisco will likely have a chance to clinch a first-round bye on the line in the final week.

What’s amazing is the difference a week makes. The Lions, playing poorly, came into University of Phoenix Stadium as the favorite last week because the Cardinals were on their nine-game losing streak. Now, it seems, many believe the Cardinals have a good shot to knock off the Bears and cripple their playoff chances. At this point, it’s what the Cards have to play for.

 


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Who we thought they were

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2012 – 9:20 am

Hard to believe this Sunday will be the first time since 2006 that the Bears have visited University of Phoenix Stadium.

“You know, I’m getting up in age … it’s hard for me to remember some things,” Bears coach Lovie Smith deadpanned, “but I do remember we came back and were able to win a big game out there.”

We won’t go over every detail — especially since I’ve done it before — but needless to say, that evening lives in infamy, at least around here. The defense dominated, and while the offense made crucial turnovers, everything that could go exactly wrong did for the Cards on a night where that was the only way the Bears were going to win.

The team coming in this year is in a much different place. That 2006 Bears team was 5-0 and later appeared in the Super Bowl. This year’s squad was 7-1 and is now 8-6, scrambling to make the playoffs and possibly save Smith’s job. The Cards, meanwhile, have just three players left on the roster from that long-ago evening: Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson (pictured here emoting against the Bears during the better part of that night.)

UPDATE: Here’s some Fitz — who was inactive that night and didn’t play — on the subject: “I remember everything about it. That was a rough one. We had ‘em.” Someone said “Were they who you thought they were?” Fitz smiled. “I’m not going to touch that. You know I love Denny Green. I’m not going to touch that.”

(An aside — the Cards started in a four-receiver set that night: Anquan Boldin, Bryant Johnson, Troy Walters and Carlyle Holiday.)

Times change. The Cards are a lot different than even the last time these teams met, a 41-21 Cardinals’ thrashing of the Bears in Chicago in 2009 when Kurt Warner sliced-and-diced Smith’s Cover 2. Now, we’re talking about Wilson’s future now, and even if the Bears make the postseason I don’t think anyone is expecting them to topple the NFC’s best and make it to another Super Bowl.

And I’m guessing, regardless of what happens, we won’t see a Ken Whisenhunt version of this, either.

WilsonBears2006USE


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Revisionist History: Denny’s thoughts on the Bears

Posted by Darren Urban on June 28, 2011 – 5:18 pm

The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:

What I remember most is that it seemed to come out of nowhere.

Before the tirade that let everyone remember Denny Green was who we thought he was, we had already gone through five or six minutes of his postgame press conference on that fateful Monday night. It had been an ugly ending, but Denny – who usually was grumpy with an edge after losses – seemed calm, almost shell shocked as the questions came.

Then came the query that set him off, a question that should have led Denny to a good place – one about what the Cards saw in the Bears’ offense that allowed the defense to dominate and forced QB Rex Grossman into six turnovers. Like a boulder rolling downhill, Green started slow and as the anger built, the response grew into its epic ending, when Green bellowed how the Cards “let ‘em off the hook!”

Quick side story – Denny had a similar moment in training camp that year. The day rookie holdout Matt Leinart finally signed, two weeks into camp, tension was building on when he would do so. I was told Green was going to go off on Leinart in his lunchtime presser, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. Denny was asked about how linebacker Karlos Dansby’s injury was doing. A five-minute monologue later, Green was talking about what a shame it was that Leinart wouldn’t play in New England that weekend for the preseason game, when Kurt Warner would and when Tom Brady would, and Green clearly was irritated Leinart wasn’t there. Wonder if Denny knew Leinart was about to sign? Regardless, I don’t see the Bears’ rant as that calculated.

But back to the crowning moment in Denny’s Arizona tenure. The roots of the speech came back in August – a week after that New England trip – when the Cards beat the Bears in the third preseason game in Chicago and both Warner and Leinart played well. Grossman was terrible against the Cards, so much so that the Chicago fans booed him relentlessly. That was what was rattling around Green’s mind less than two months later.

The Cards were already ornery because of how things were going. After winning the first regular-season game at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Cards had lost four straight. Warner had been benched for Leinart. The Bears were coming to town with a 5-0 record. The big story during the week was actually Darnell Dockett signing a contract extension (although Leinart’s first start the previous week against the Chiefs caught everyone’s attention.)

Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a “glorified practice.” Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly “who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.” At least, not yet.

Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night).

While the world watched – over and over – Denny’s rant and it was repeated everywhere, the fallout was quick. Offensive coordinator Keith Rowen was demoted the next day. The Cards’ season ran off the rails, and by the time the Bears made it to the Super Bowl, Green was out and Ken Whisenhunt was the coach. Super week, Denny’s words continued to echo, as everyone kept saying, in some way shape or form, the Bears were who we thought they were.


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Schedule hope

Posted by Darren Urban on April 18, 2011 – 3:19 pm

In the middle of waiting for the labor problems to be resolved comes the news the 2011 regular-season schedule will be released tomorrow — Tuesday — at 4 p.m. Arizona time (which is 7 p.m. Eastern). I know, I know, there are some of you who feel “What’s the point” until there is a labor agreement, and clearly, the NFL has taken part of that into account. Another game in London, between the Bears and Bucs, has been scheduled for Oct. 23 — except there is a caveat that the game will move back to Tampa Bay if a new labor agreement hasn’t been reached by Aug. 1.

As a quick reminder, the Cards’ home schedule includes the NFC West teams, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Carolina, Cleveland and the New York Giants. The away schedule includes the NFC West, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington.


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This sounds familiar

Posted by Darren Urban on January 11, 2011 – 10:16 am

So there were — understandably — big questions about the Seahawks taking their 7-9 record despite an NFC West title and winning anything. Every single one of their nine losses were by at least 15 points, for heavens sake!

Then they knocked off the Saints.

And suddenly, you look at the NFC playoff landscape and think, “Have I seen this before?”

Back in 2008, after the Cards won their first playoff game (at home) they went to play at 12-4 Carolina (the No. 2 seed) as the No. 4 seed. It was the perfect matchup, because they had already gone to Carolina earlier in the season and even though they lost, 27-23, to a man the Cardinals felt they had blown that game against the Panthers and were a better team. At the same time, the No. 6 Eagles were going to the No. 1 Giants, and while New York was having a fine season as defending NFL champs, Philly had just beat them in New York.

We know how that turned out. The Cards ended up with one of the most improbable NFC Championship home games ever.

This season, some of the details are transposed, but there is a chance the result could repeat. The No. 4 Seahawks are at the No. 2 Bears, and Chicago was the site of Seattle’s most notable regular-season victory when they beat up the Bears earlier this year. And while the No. 6 Packers lost at the No. 1 Falcons a few weeks ago, Green Bay easily could have won a tight game. If the Packers and Seahawks both win (and the latter isn’t out of the question), Seattle might find itself hosting the NFC Championship. Improbably. Once again.


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After practice, No QB decision yet

Posted by Darren Urban on August 30, 2010 – 1:15 pm

The Cards just had their first practice back after coming home from Chicago. No, coach Ken Whisenhunt did not announce a starting quarterback yet. He said both will play in the preseason finale against Washington “unless something changes” (and no, that isn’t some hint to a trade or something). Whiz has no timeline on his announcement and said that a few times. Whiz also reiterated that the offense wasn’t playing well in the first two games of the preseason and he changed things up to see what would happen. Obviously, something worked.

Matt Leinart said after practice “I really want an explanation” for the situation, but acknowledged he has yet to approach Whiz to discuss the subject.Leinart also said he has “outplayed the competition” in camp. Derek Anderson, meanwhile, continues to be low-key in talking about the situation. I will have a bigger story in a bit.

In other news:

– Whiz did say it is “always dicey” to have a rookie as a backup, should something happen and the Cards decide to move one of their veterans. But he did say both Max Hall and John Skelton have impressed him and he feels more comfortable about such a possibility than he did before camp.

– TE Ben Patrick (knee) was back at practice, slowly getting back into the groove. WR Andre Roberts (shoulder) remains out, while RBs Jason Wright (toe) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (concussion) were out. Both aren’t expected to be long-term injuries; the Hyphen rode a bike yesterday and did OK and was getting further tests today.

– WR Larry Fitzgerald is wearing a smaller knee brace but he will not play Thursday.


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Bears aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on August 29, 2010 – 2:40 am

Life on the charter flight. I write this version of the Aftermath well after midnight Arizona time, sitting in the back of the plane as flight attendants Billi and Candice serve dinner and fullback Reagan Maui’a sits across from me, playing his ukulele at 30,000 feet.

But we must go on to the game. That’s what you’re here for.

– I don’t know exactly what Ken Whisenhunt was aiming for when he decided to start Derek Anderson this week over Matt Leinart, but whatever his intention, it worked. Both played well, and frankly, I don’t envy Whisenhunt’s decision going forward. Nothing was made easier Saturday night in the Chicago win, although Whiz was clearly feeling better about life than in the Tennessee game.

“I take my hat off to (the QBs),” running back Tim Hightower said. “A lot of people they can say whatever they want to about Matt, but he showed a lot. D.A., he played well, and when he had opportunities, he capitalized. But Matt came in and did his thing and he handled himself well.”

It was interesting that twice, Whisenhunt noted the quarterback choice will come down to chemistry with the team and how the QB handles things when he is in the fray – and that it won’t necessarily be about stats. Given that Leinart has completed 19-of-23 preseason passes and not turned it over, Whiz’s comments seem to pump the brakes on the idea Leinart could be the favorite. One of the issues swirling around Leinart for a while has been whether he is able to inspire the team.

“I don’t know what the decision will be made on,” Leinart said, smiling. “I feel like I have a great relationship with my guys, my team for four, five years now. Like I said, I can only control what I control, and that’s playing good football and being a leader. I have a great relationship with all my teammates and I don’t think it should be based on that because I feel like I am doing a good job in that department.”

– Arguably, the guy with the biggest stake in the quarterback position is Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. His thoughts on the QB controversy/competition? Fitz told this to ace beat man Kent Somers: “I’m just a hired hand, man. I’m just a pawn on the chess board.”

Something tells me Fitz has his opinions.

– Hightower ran the ball well (62 yards on eight carries). Beanie Wells didn’t have the greatest night. He gained 14 yards on eight carries, dropped a pass and, most crucial, fumbled the ball late in the second quarter inside the Bears’ 10-yard line when it looked like the Cards were going to drive for a TD. Replays seemed to show Beanie might have been down a split-second before losing control, but it wasn’t overturned, and Whisenhunt wasn’t happy considering Beanie’s fumbling issues as a rookie.

“That is something with Beanie we have made progress with and he obviously was criticized for not paying more attention to the ball there,” Whisenhunt said.

– Deuce Lutui logged significant time with the starting offensive line at right guard, although Reggie Wells started. Given all the talk about Anderson, Greg Toler and Daryl Washington moving into the starting lineup, you wonder if Deuce is next.

– All four guys who can play nose tackle – Bryan Robinson, Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Dan Williams – logged time there by early in the second quarter. It’s beginning to look like the Cards could very well keep them all, and seven defensive linemen overall (Campbell, Dockett, Iwebema).

– Speaking of the defensive front, they again played well and sparked the overall good defensive night (four sacks and two picks of QB Jay Cutler and Mike Martz’s latest attempt to revive the Greatest Show on Turf, except on grass).

– I’m not sure Stephen Williams has had a bad day since training camp started. Anderson played well, but he owes a little something to the rookie receiver for coming up big in traffic.

– Awesome play to score your touchdown, Steve Breaston (pictured below). Oh, don’t ever leap like that in a preseason game again. Your legs looked like they were going to snap as you went up and over the goal line.

– QB Max Hall looked sharp at the end. And I’m beginning to think Max Komar will be the second rookie receiver to stick around, if they decide to keep six receivers. All he does is make plays. (UPDATE: Oops. Forgot Andre Roberts is a rookie. He will make it too).

– Offensive linemen David Moosman and Casey Knips haven’t gotten into a game yet. That doesn’t bode well with a cut of five coming Monday. And speaking of not boding well, the fact tight end Dominique Byrd didn’t play Saturday usually isn’t a good sign either.

Wow, I wrote a lot there. Might have to take Sunday off.


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And now, a word from our sponsors

Posted by Darren Urban on August 28, 2010 – 3:46 pm

We briefly interrupt our talk about Derek Anderson and Matt Leinart to discuss a couple other things:

– Very interested to see how linebacker Daryl Washington responds to playing with the starting unit tonight. All along I didn’t think Washington would get to the starting lineup by the beginning of the season but it turns out I may be wrong on that. In many ways, it makes sense. If you aren’t sure of what you’ll get from the rest of the linebackers, maybe you just get the top talent on the field and live with a few mistakes.

– The Bears don’t usually blitz, so I don’t expect a repeat of what the Titans did to the offense and offensive line Monday night. Still, the line needs to hold up against someone like DE Julius Peppers, who has apparently played pretty well thus far. Obviously, regardless of it’s Anderson or Leinart, they need to run the ball a little better. Or a lot better.

– OK, maybe there are a couple of real sponsor-esque things to get to. The NFL, trying to fight childhood obesity and promote the game, has put together a new campaign called “Back to Football Fridays.” The idea is that offices have a Friday tailgate or something else to make people think about being active/football. I’m guessing most people wouldn’t mind having time away from the cubicle. There is even a drawing to enter to have a past or current player visit the office during one of these times.

– Speaking of meeting players, there is still time to get a ticket for Wednesday’s Kickoff Luncheon at University of Phoenix Stadium. You’ll sit at a table with a player or two, have a chance to walk around and meet everyone if you want, and be able to bid on auction items all on the floor of the stadium. Always a cool experience.


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Leinart talks about not starting

Posted by Darren Urban on August 27, 2010 – 9:46 am

Quarterback Matt Leinart just talked about getting demoted behind Derek Anderson. Not surprisingly, he isn’t happy, but he said he still planning on starting the regular-season opener:

– “It is disappointing and a little bit frustrating,” Leinart said. “I can’t sit up here and say I’m happy and all smiles. It is frustrating. I am not sure the expectation put on me. I have high expectations on myself, and I think, based on my body of work in the preseason, I have been accurate and not turned the ball over. I think the preseason is about gelling together as an offense. We have a lot of new faces on the offense.

“When you don’t move the ball, it’s not what you want, but that is what preseason is for. To gel together as an offense. It is what it is. I don’t make these decisions. I have done everything coach has asked of me. I have been committed and I have worked extremely hard. If it is an open competition, then let’s have it that way from the start, if this is what this is.

“Moving forward, I have to keep working. Go out (Saturday) and work my butt off and let my play do the talking. I am confident in my ability. I am extremely disappointed, and I’m not exactly sure why this decision was made, but it’s not my decision.”

– Leinart said he still expects to start in St. Louis, although he acknowledged he wasn’t sure where things will go from here:

“I have learned the last two weeks, you control what you can control. I think I have made the most of my opportunities when I have had the chance. We weren’t in the best situations all the time, and that’s all of us. I am the quarterback and I take the blame but collectively, like I said, preseason is about coming together. That’s my view.”

– On the mental side of dealing with the situation:

“It’s mentally draining. It drains you a little bit and it’s been like that the last three years. Physically I feel fine and I have been efficient this preseason … in the limited, limited opportunities I have had, I think I’ve done my best. Can I get better? Absolutely. I know that. I’m not perfect and I know I have a lot of work to do. If it’s open competition, I think you need equal opportunity. Who’s to say … I don’t know if that is happening.”

– On whether it could be coach Ken Whisenhunt trying to spark Leinart:

“Coach has a way of handling me and my situation the last three years, even when Kurt was here. For me, I’ve always kind of taken it with a grain of salt and continued to work hard. If he is testing me, that’s fine. I am disappointed but it’s not going to stop me from working and being a leader. I know guys are looking to me still. It’s adversity but I will get through it. I know hard work pays off.

“I’m not going to look much into it. I am going to go out, play my game, and take advantage of the opportunity I get. That’s all you can do.”

We will have video of it up later, but I thought his body language was fine. I sensed a guy hoping that chance will come again to start, not defeated. I sensed too he might have been (smartly) holding back. He’s definitely not happy. You know he knows Anderson has had 41 pass attempts this preseason and he only has 13. Maybe that gets flipped a bit tomorrow night. I will have a story up later too about more big picture for this week, but for now, we are getting on a bus soon to go to the airport.

Chicago here we come, quarterbacks and all.


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Looking for answers

Posted by Darren Urban on August 26, 2010 – 3:27 pm

“You want answers?”

“I think I’m entitled.”

“You want answers?!?”

“I WANT THE TRUTH!”

“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!”

I’m not so sure that sequence (man, I love that movie) could fit any better into the place everyone is right now with the Cardinals’ quarterbacks. I know in a lot of ways my head is ready to explode.

So I got a tweet this afternoon from @mbodmer: “@Cardschatter put yourself out there. what happens week 1. 1-3 and PS qb’s. give us something real.” OK, something real. Well, reality is this – I don’t think the Cardinals know for sure what that’s going to look like 10 days from now. I’m not sure how I am supposed to figure it out.

I’m not going to lie, and anyone who has read my stuff knows this anyway: I thought all along Matt Leinart would at least start the season under center. I suppose that can still happen. He will have Beanie Wells behind him at running back for the first time in Chicago barring something unforeseen, so maybe that helps in some way. But clearly, had Leinart played the way the Cards were hoping, Derek Anderson would not be starting against the Bears. I can still see a scenario where Leinart plays against the Rams Sept. 12, and obviously, I can see Anderson playing as well.

But this has gone further than who starts. It’s also about who is on the roster.

Let’s just take today’s news/speculation and extrapolate it out. Let’s say Anderson becomes the permanent starter. Do you try to trade Leinart? Release him? It makes for easy decisions on John Skelton and Max Hall – they’d stay, of course – but where does that leave you? Let’s say Anderson falters or gets hurt. Are you riding with Hall – who was, despite looking pretty decent in camp, is still undrafted and most certainly unproven? Skelton, who is even more raw than Hall?

Another scenario is Anderson starting in front of Leinart, and keeping a young guy (and making the other young guy on the practice squad). Can Leinart handle, especially mentally, being a backup again? Can the Cards get either Hall or Skelton to the practice squad?

(Quick aside: It’s not necessarily easy to get a guy through to the practice squad, but it’s not easy to take a guy either. Don’t forget, it’s not like another team could take Hall or Skelton and put him on its practice squad. They’d have to put him on their active roster.)

Or, of course, the Cards could keep four QBs. But on a team with depth issues in spots, losing a valuable roster spot to a player who would always be inactive and would have a hard time getting practice reps with three other QBs just seems difficult to do.

The answer, for me, is that there is no answer. Not now, not with two preseason games and a couple weeks before the first game. I could be off base, but I don’t think I am. Coach Ken Whisenhunt probably wishes everything was set in stone, but he said today it wasn’t and, given the circumstances, that makes sense to me. Things change quickly — just ask this guy (below) that was at the Titans’ game. That’s the truth, whether you choose to handle it or not.


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