Everything Sunday was supposed to be for the Cardinals – everything the Cards needed it to be – it wasn’t. Bruce Arians called the loss to the Falcons disappointing, lots of players called it disappointing, but more importantly, they were asking themselves why it happened the way it did when they simply couldn’t afford such a performance.
“We didn’t wake up,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “It was like we were asleep the whole game. We’ve just got to do better, man. Do what got us here, as far as hitting people in the mouth, just playing hungry, playing nasty – play like we are one of the top teams in the league, which we supposedly were until these last two games. We’ve just got to wake back up and get back on this winning train.”
The offense wasn’t good, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But from the time that Steven Jackson – Steven Jackson? – reeled off a 55-yard run on the game’s first possession, it was the defense that simply didn’t do enough Sunday. No, the offense didn’t do enough either, but this year, with this team, the defense is held to the higher standard. The defense will be what takes the Cardinals however far they will go.
Jackson gained 101 yards. The Cardinals never give up 100 yards to a running back. Julio Jones put Patrick Peterson on blast to the tune of a career-high 189 yards, and Harry Douglas added 116 himself – you know, as long as Roddy White was hurt, why not?
The last time the Cardinals gave up at least 100 yards in a game to a running back and two receivers? Way (way) back on Nov. 12, 2000, when Robert Smith rushed for 117 yards, Cris Carter had 119 yards receiving and Randy Moss has 104 for the Vikings. Of course, that was for a bad, bad Cardinals team that went through a midseason coaching change. This was by a defense that not only is better, but when it is playing well is one of the best in the league.
Adversity has come to visit, linebacker Larry Foote said. With four games left – including the last three within the division – the Cardinals have to figure out how to overcome. It starts on defense.
— Stanton did seem to find a little bit of a groove after a very slow start. But the Cards kill themselves over and over. A Michael Floyd fumble here. A Ted Larsen holding penalty there. An incomplete bomb to Ted Ginn on third-and-2. The first thing Stanton talked about after the game was converting third downs, of which the Cards did only once Sunday.
— Andre Ellington said he’ll be OK after his hip pointer – he said it was a different injury than the one he has been dealing with – but the run game didn’t help again. Falling behind so big so early didn’t help, but Ellington and backup Marion Grice combined for just 10 rushing attempts, for just 35 yards.
— There were too many important players standing out of uniform on the sideline during the game – Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, John Abraham – to not make you think if all the injuries are starting to catch up to this team.
— The Cardinals do get linebacker Matt Shaughnessy back this week and he can play against the Chiefs. That isn’t a small thing.
— Jaron Brown had his best game, with a team-best seven catches for 75 yards in Fitz’s absence, and absorbed one wicked blow late as he was tackled. Brown was fine with that, he said. He wasn’t fine with the ball that glanced off his hands early in the game, which turned into the Falcons’ first interception. The pass looked too high from Stanton, but to that Brown shrugged off.
“That catch I should have made,” he said. “It hit my hands. Those tips are something we can’t have.”
— Lyle Sendlein, who used to be an offensive captain before Carson Palmer took a foothold in the locker room, is wearing the “C” on his uniform again now that Palmer is out for the season.
— With the high-ankle sprain of Paul Fanaika, it sure looks like Jonathan Cooper will be in the lineup as a starting guard for a little while at least. Even before Fanaika got hurt, Cooper was swapping series with Ted Larsen at left guard. It looked like the effort to reintroduce him into the lineup had begun.
— Arians said he didn’t challenge the 41-yard catch by Julio Jones in the second half – the one in which numerous fans mentioned to me on Twitter Jones only got one foot down – because the coaches upstairs never saw a replay. Peterson was called for holding on the play, but a challenge could have saved the Cards 36 yards if the catch had been negated.
— The punt team nearly was burned on a 70-yard punt return touchdown by Devin Hester. But Hester was called for a facemask while trying to straight-arm punter Drew Butler, and then the Falcons were flagged for another 15-yard penalty for complaining about that call. Cost the Falcons four points in the end (Atlanta later got a field goal). Hester afterward insisted it was a bad call.
— That’s it from 30,000 feet. The Cardinals go back to work tomorrow, trying desperately to right what’s wrong.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Cris Carter, Devin Hester, Drew Butler, Drew Stanton, Falcons, Harry Douglas, Jaron Brown, Jonathan Cooper, Julio Jones, Kevin Minter, Lyle Sendlein, Marion Grice, Matt Shaughnessy, Michael Floyd, Patrick Peterson, Paul Fanaika, Randy Moss, Robert Smith, Steven Jackson, Ted Larsen
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Two of the four players in NFL history who have four punt return touchdowns in a season will be returning punts Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I think it’s going to be fun, having Devin Hester on one end and Patrick Peterson on the other,” Peterson said. “I believe that calls for a good show.”
Whether it actually produces anything remains to be seen. Both Peterson and Hester have been quiet this season on punt returns. Hester has averaged just nine yards on 34 tries, with a long of 44. His average is well below his career average of 12.3 yards a return. Peterson, of course, has also been slowed. He has an average of 8.6 yards on 47 tries (and has lost three fumbles). Neither Peterson or Hester has a touchdown this season.
Peterson has talked a few times about trying to break out on punt returns. But he is playing well at cornerback, and the always confident Peterson will not sway from his belief the big punt return will still come.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day the Arizona Cardinals drafted me to be a defensive back. The punt returns are a plus. When my opportunities comes, I will try my best and I want to break one. But teams now are so dialed in, when (number) 21 has the ball in his hands, bottle him up on the sideline and if you don’t, have all 11 hats to the ball.”
— Wide receiver Early Doucet (concussion) and newcomer offensive lineman Mike Gibson (calf) — who apparently got hurt in practice this week after re-signing — are both out Sunday. The Cardinals have a bunch of players questionable, although both safeties Rashad Johnson and James Sanders were upgraded to limited Friday. In addition to those two, the questionable list includes T Nate Potter, FB Anthony Sherman, LB Quentin Groves, TE Rob Housler, DE Ronald Talley and NT Dan Williams.
The Bears will be without LB Brian Urlacher. DT Henry Melton is doubtful. Questionable are NFL interceptions leader Tim Jennings, LB Blake Costanzo, WR Earl Bennett and T Jonathan Scott.
Tags: Anthony Sherman, Bears, Dan Williams, Devin Hester, Early Doucet, James Sanders, Mike Gibson, Nate Potter, Patrick Peterson, Quentin Groves, Rashad Johnson, Rob Housler, Ronald Talley
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As we wrap up the week, it’s hard not to think back to the last time the Cardinals and Bears played. The coaching staff is different by now, at least on this end. Many players are different. And what lingers is Denny Green’s famous postgame rant. So I decided to ask safety Matt Ware, who was on that team, about the locker room after the game and whether he saw the rant coming.
“He was upset,” Ware said. “But it was more ‘This is unbelievable.’ As in, ‘How, how exclamation point, question mark, exclamation point that we let that happen.’ ” (Yes, Ware specifically said his punctuation. And as someone at that game, I can confirm it fit the mood).
Ware said Green’s main anger was saved until the next time the team got together to watch the film. The locker room and post-game “was just awkward, man.”
The funny part is that, because of where the locker room is, back behind thick walls separating it from the interview room at University of Phoenix Stadium, nobody knew what happened because Green wasn’t nearly as worked up inside or even on the postgame radio interview. Just at the podium (and just, I might add, for that one question. He answered five or six questions before that clearly not happy but calmly).
Ware said the players didn’t really know what Green had done until they started leaving, meeting their families, when it was being shown on the video screen.
“It seems so long ago,” Ware said. “But the commercial keeps it close.”
And so, on to Bears-Cardinals 2009:
— There are two giant questions this week, obviously. One is how the Cardinals respond after their showing last weekend. The other is whether Anquan Boldin will play. On the latter, we will see but it’s going to be a difficult decision. Boldin looked Friday like he could play. There has been all the talk this week about resting-versus-playing. My gut? If the doctors aren’t sure it can get a lot better – and coach Ken Whisenhunt has talked a couple of times about how unlikely it is Q’s ankle can get hit again – Boldin will be in there. Maybe it would have been different if the Cards had beaten Carolina. But they didn’t.
— As for responding, I do think the Cards are in the best mental shape they’ve ever been in following such a difficult loss. I don’t know if that translates into a win Sunday, but I can totally see it. And trust me, there have been plenty of road trips over the years where I couldn’t.
— We’ll see if Kurt Warner can be the Cards’ first 300-yard passer against the Bears since 1937. Yikes. That’s a stretch. Given the expected weather (mid-50s, clear) he’ll have the right conditions.
— The Bears have a good win against the Steelers and they did win in Seattle. But their run game, in my opinion, isn’t as good as the Cards – and the Cards, as we know, are still progressing in that area. They don’t have the receivers and their offensive line has been spotty. If Warner has time to throw – I know, if, if, if – I think the Cards will score points. And I think the defense will expect to return to its run-stopping ways.
— Special teams will be so important. Devin Hester (on punt returns, assuming his ankle doesn’t keep him out) and Johnny Knox on kickoff returns can do damage. Limit that, and the Cardinals will be in great shape.
— Seriously, before the season, if you would have said the Cardinals would be 5-3 at midseason – looking at the schedule at the time before any games were played – I am guessing you’d think, “Solid.”
That’s about it. No more looking back, whether it’s to the Panthers’ game or to 2006 and the Monday Night nightmare. This is about the future, and a flight to Chicago tomorrow.
OK, and maybe a defensive performance like the Cards turned in the last time they saw the Bears, regardless of the result.
Tags: Anquan Boldin, Bears, Dennis Green, Devin Hester, Kurt Warner, Matt Ware
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