The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
Now, there is a game in England every year, as much a part of the NFL landscape as Bill Belichick’s dry press conferences or James Harrison’s fines. Once, though, it was a big deal that the Cardinals and the 49ers were going to play the first NFL regular-season game out of the country, in Mexico City.
Back in 2005, we had the NFL’s then-COO, Roger Goodell, talking about wanting to see how a game outside the U.S would work. In a lot of ways, the Cards were a natural fit. A game against the 49ers at Sun Devil Stadium usually would only draw 35,000 or so and it would be half-empty; with the Cards set to move into University of Phoenix Stadium the next year, it made sense they would be the team to surrender a home game for the cause. That didn’t necessarily work for the Cardinals’ players, but in the big picture that usually doesn’t matter.
There were other reasons why the Cards were a match. On the practice squad was offensive lineman Rolando Cantu, the first Mexican citizen (non-kicker) ever to play in the NFL (Rolando is now a co-worker, his desk just a few cubicles down from me) wasn’t playing in the game but he was already a virtual rock star in Mexico because of his spot with the Cards. (Cantu officially played in the NFL the final game of the 2005 season in Indianapolis, cementing his legacy.)
The Cards tried to approach the journey to Mexico as just another road trip. Don’t forget, it was mixed in with the Cards’ poor 0-3 start, including an groin strain the week before in Seattle for first-year quarterback Kurt Warner. Josh McCown was back at QB, facing future Card Tim Rattay as the 49ers QB, since rookie Alex Smith had yet to win the job. Ideally, the Cards wouldn’t have given up a home game, especially since most of the 100,000-plus fans (final attendance was officially 103,467) who had a rooting interest would be rooting for the 49ers.
That changed quickly, when veteran safety Robert Griffith came charging out during introductions waving a huge Mexican flag. Suddenly, many fans who hadn’t cared about who won and who lost now took a liking to the Cards. The game started horribly, with the Cards fumbling on each of their first two possessions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. It was a 14-0 hole and San Francisco hadn’t even been on offense. But the Cards rallied, and rallied big.
McCown ended up with arguably his best day as a Cardinal (32-for-46, 385 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) and kicker Neil Rackers had his best day of his best season, making all six of his field-goal attempts (Rackers set an NFL record with 40 field goals, in 42 attempts, that season.) The game, by all accounts, was a success (OK, maybe the 49ers wouldn’t agree) and paved the way for the future games outside the U.S.
My lingering memory, aside from Griffith’s run? My paper at the time was still backward in its technology and I may have been the only one without a wireless capability on my laptop. I was worried about getting a landline at the stadium (The NFL did a great job of hooking me up despite those nasty long-distance rates) and it paid off – stadium workers breaking down after the game kept shutting off the wireless connections, leaving only backwards-me uninterrupted access to the internet on deadline.
Tags: Josh McCown, Mexico, Neil Rackers, Revisionist history, Robert Griffith, Roger Goodell, Rolando Cantu, Sun Devil Stadium, Tim Rattay
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See, the week before, Matt Leinart had broken his collarbone and was out for the season. The Cards were only carrying two quarterbacks at the time, so, Tim Rattay came in off the street to back up Warner. And then Warner went down. Rattay played the rest of that game against the Panthers — a loss, even though the Panthers also had to bring Vinny Testaverde off the street to play QB because of injuries — and the offense looked understandably disheveled.
Warner came back the next week, amazingly, playing with a bad left elbow. Warner had to deal with pain and a funky brace, but the alternative was using Rattay (pictured below) when he just didn’t know what he was doing.
There is a reason teams aren’t adding quarterbacks midseason and then using them. Heck, there is a reason teams bring back players they have already cut if someone is needed — think Onrea Jones — instead of looking elsewhere. If you need to plug someone in right away, you want someone who knows the system. That’s why a trade (however silly the idea) of someone like Kevin Kolb would not work in the short-term even if he was available. Or why a team is going to be hesitant to claim a Trent Edwards and put him on the field right away.
There’s a reason Leinart, when he signed with the Texans, had no immediate chance to be the backup even over journeyman Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky had been with the Texans all offseason. He knew the offense. Leinart didn’t/doesn’t. At best, it’ll be deep into the season before Leinart moves up the depth chart. This isn’t baseball or basketball, where a new player can slide right in and make an impact.
And in the case of the Cards, coach Ken Whisenhunt made the choice to go with the three quarterbacks he has now. He’s going to stick with that plan at least through the season (barring injury), which is why Derek Anderson remains entrenched as a starter and why, if the team were to make a change, rookie Max Hall would get the call rather than the Cards putting a call into, say, the UFL to see if ancient Jeff Garcia is available.
Tags: Derek Anderson, Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb, Kurt Warner, Matt Leinart, Max Hall, Tim Rattay, Trent Edwards, Vinny Testaverde
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Funny how the week seems to fly by when the team is playing well and the storylines are basically positive. And there’s no plane to climb aboard this week. OK, maybe it’s not funny. Just pleasant.
But enough chit-chat. I have a ton of stuff I haven’t been able to notebook/blog until now. So let’s get to it:
— The last time the Panthers came to Arizona, it was quite the result, if you don’t remember. It was 2007, and Matt Leinart had just broken his collarbone the week before. The Cards wanted to sign Vinny Testaverde to back up Kurt Warner, but the Panthers, looking for a replacement for the injured Jake Delhomme, convinced Testaverde to go there instead – and he started despite being in Carolina all of three practices. The Cards signed Tim Rattay, and when Warner badly hurt his left elbow (pictured) on a Julius Peppers’ sack early in the game, Rattay – who also only had three practices – was forced to play. Eventually, Carolina pulled away late in a 25-10 win, a game the Cards always regretted after finishing 8-8.
— To think, Warner began his current 37-game starting streak that day and kept it up the very next week even though his elbow was scrambled and he had to play with a brace. That told me and a lot of people about Warner’s toughness (And no, before you all send e-mails or comments that I’m jinxing Warner, no I’m not. That’s simply a silly thought).
— Speaking of Warner, keeping him clean is the key, right? If he’s sacked two times or less, the Cards are 4-0 this season. More than twice, 0-2. For his career, those numbers are similar: 46-22 when sacked twice or less, 15-24 when sacked at least three times. His passing stats are also much better in the former than the latter. Yes, I know it’s kind of a “duh” stat. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pointed out.
— Whisenhunt has been leaning toward taking the ball if the Cards win the toss this season rather than deferring. “How many times have we scored on the opening drive?” Whisenhunt said. “We would have had (Sunday) night too.” I agree. If Tim Hightower hadn’t fumbled in New York, I have no doubt the Cards would have gotten at least three points there.
— The last time the Cardinals (4-2 going into the Panthers’ game) started 5-2 in a season was 1976, when they were actually 5-1. They eventually ran their record to 8-2 before finishing the 14-game season with a 10-4 mark.
— One man who doesn’t get mentioned much is backup safety/special teamer Matt Ware, who was in a serious fight in training camp with two others – Aaron Francisco and Keith Lewis – for one roster spot. Whisenhunt specifically talked about him today, noting it was Ware who caused the fumble by Ahmad Bradshaw in the Giants’ game. “The arrow is going up with him,” Whisenhunt said.
— No, the Cardinals aren’t going to wear white-on-white this weekend, because they didn’t request it in the offseason (the last home game was planned because of the pink for breast cancer awareness). Had Whisenhunt been given a choice, knowing the Cards are 4-0 this season wearing white jerseys and knowing how superstitious he is, would he have? Heck yeah. “You know I’m aware of it, that’s for sure,” Whisenhunt said.
— A couple fans have asked me about dropped passes and the Cards. The bottom line, there haven’t been many, not officially. The Cardinals have been charged with only 10 dropped passes out of 175 catchable balls, and their 5.7 percentage is sixth-best in the NFL (The Bears, at 3.5 percent, are first; the Browns, at 17.3 percent drops, are last). Fullback Dan Kreider has two of the drops; running back Tim Hightower three. Fitz has been charged with one drop in 63 passes targeted his way. Anquan Boldin has two in 51 targets, Steve Breaston none in 32 and Jerheme Urban none in 23.
— I do say, in light of the fines announced today by the NFL, I did enjoy Darnell Dockett’s response to the Ahmad Bradshaw fine for hitting Dockett.
— The Cards could make an impact with a sudden score, given that the Panthers have had trouble in that area. Carolina, in six games, has given up five such touchdowns – one kickoff return, one punt return, one fumble return and two interception returns.
— I think Fitz could be due for a big game. Sure, the Panthers lead the league in pass defense, but they are dead last in the NFL in pass attempts against. That tends to help your yardage average. Teams run the ball against Carolina (Beanie?) and don’t need to pass as much. The Cards, with Hightower and Edgerrin James, had 145 yards rushing in the playoff game in Carolina. And something tells me that’s going to free Fitz deep.
— Speaking of Fitz, if you haven’t caught it already, Fox Sports Arizona is airing one more time his story on an episode of VIZIO’s Pro Football PROfiles tonight at 11 p.m.
— Finally, it’ll be interesting to see what the Panthers do to free up Steve Smith, who’s been a non-factor. The Pro Bowl receiver used to always torch the Cards, all the way up until the playoff game. “He’s got that big-guy mentality,” Cardinals cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He doesn’t fear anything.”
That’s probably true. But the Cards’ defense is playing so well right now. They handled Smith in the playoffs. Their run defense is prepared for DeAngelo Williams. Here’s hoping for another quick week around the Tempe office come Monday morning.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Dan Kreider, Darnell Dockett, DRC, Giants, Jake Delhomme, Jerheme Urban, Julius Peppers, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Leinart, Matt Ware, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower, Tim Rattay, Vinny Testaverde
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