November 16, 2010

2008: Warner Passes for 395 Yards and Cards Hold On to Beat Seattle

QB Kurt Warner (pictured above) had experienced a rebirth of his career with the Arizona Cardinals, and the team was now poised to make the most of it. After coming out of nowhere to lead the Rams to a championship in 1999 and putting together three outstanding seasons from ’99 to 2001, Warner’s career had come crashing down over the next two seasons. Losing his starting job to Marc Bulger, he moved on to the Giants for a year and acted as mentor to rookie QB Eli Manning, and then came to Phoenix in 2005 to do the same for QB Matt Leinart.

However, circumstances moved Warner back to the forefront with the Cardinals. Leinart struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness, and the veteran was productive in his appearances. After Leinart went down with a collarbone injury early in the 2007 season, Warner took over the starting role and didn’t relinquish it. With outstanding wide receivers to throw to in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, the 37-year-old quarterback was thriving in 2008 and the team was contending in the mediocre NFC West.

The Cardinals had been perennial underachievers, and since moving to Phoenix in 1988 finished over .500 just once through ’07. That they had gone 8-8 in 2007 under new Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was cause for celebration. By the time they faced the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on November 16, 2008, they were sporting a 6-3 record.

The Seahawks were in the tenth and final year under the direction of Head Coach Mike Holmgren, who had announced prior to the season that ’08 would be his last. They had experienced success during Holmgren’s tenure, winning the previous four division titles and going to the Super Bowl following the 2005 season. But by the time they faced the Cardinals, they were 2-7. Injuries were a key factor in the club’s collapse, in particular the loss of QB Matt Hasselbeck, who had missed the previous six games due to a back injury.

Arizona started strong, scoring on its first two possessions. The first was a 13-play drive that resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Neil Rackers and the second covered 89 yards in seven plays that led to a four-yard touchdown run by RB J.J. Arrington. Along the way, Warner had connected with Boldin twice for 54 yards and once to Fitzgerald for 20. The Cardinals had a 10-0 lead after one quarter.

Rackers added a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter before Seattle got on the board. CB Josh Wilson intercepted a Warner pass at his own 23 and returned it 58 yards to the Arizona 19. Shortly thereafter, Hasselbeck threw for a 13-yard touchdown to RB Maurice Morris. The Cardinals got the ball back with less than a minute to go in the half and managed a 54-yard field goal by Rackers as time expired to take a 16-7 lead into halftime.

Arizona appeared to put the game away in the third quarter as Rackers kicked his fourth field goal, of 26 yards, and Warner ended a ten-play drive with a six-yard TD pass to Arrington. The Cardinals’ margin was stretched to 26-7.

However, the Seahawks fought back on their next possession. Josh Wilson returned the kickoff 56 yards to the Arizona 36 yard line. Seattle drove to the three, but it appeared that the Cardinals had extinguished the threat when LB Karlos Dansby intercepted Hasselbeck’s pass in the end zone on a third-and-three play. However, rather than taking a touchback, Dansby returned the interception to the ten yard line and fumbled. It was recovered by OT Walter Jones and the Seahawks had a new set of downs and made the most of it. Five plays later, RB T.J. Duckett scored a touchdown from a yard out. An attempted two-point conversion failed.

Arizona got the ball back, but on the second play Warner fumbled when sacked by DT Brandon Mebane and DE Darryl Tapp recovered at the Cardinals’ 14. Duckett ran for another TD from two yards out after Seattle successfully converted a fourth down as Hasselbeck ran for five yards on a fourth-and-three play. Suddenly, Arizona’s margin was reduced to six points (they kicked the extra point this time) with 9:41 left on the clock.

With the crowd of 67,616 now aroused and unleashing a deafening roar, the Cardinals held the ball for seven plays on their next possession, but an intentional grounding call on Warner forced them to punt. Seattle got the ball back on its own 26 with 5:38 remaining and apparent momentum. However, at this critical juncture the offense went nowhere in three plays and had to punt.

Arizona ran almost two minutes off the clock before punting with just over two minutes remaining. But on the first play, Hasselbeck’s long pass intended for WR Deion Branch was intercepted by CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and the Seattle threat was finally extinguished. The Cardinals held on to win, 26-20.

That Seattle came so close to pulling the game out was nothing short of amazing since Arizona significantly outgained the Seahawks, 458 yards to 196, and had the edge in first downs, 24 to 18. Seattle converted just one of nine third downs and gained a woeful 43 yards rushing on 22 attempts. The Seahawks also gave up four turnovers, to Arizona’s three.

However, considering all of the yards gained, Arizona only got into the end zone twice, benefiting from a perfect four-for-four field goal performance by Neil Rackers. They also were penalized eight times, as opposed to one flag thrown on the Seahawks.

Kurt Warner completed 32 of 44 passes for 395 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It was his fourth straight 300-yard performance (of an eventual five), a club record. Both wide receivers had big days, with Anquan Boldin catching 13 passes for 186 yards and Larry Fitzgerald (pictured at right) adding 10 receptions for 151 yards. J.J. Arrington ran for 40 yards on 8 carries with a TD and RB Tim Hightower had 35 yards on his 11 attempts.

For Seattle, Matt Hasselbeck was good on 17 of 29 passes for 170 yards with a TD and three interceptions (two by Rodgers-Cromartie). Deion Branch was the leading receiver with four catches for 54 yards. RB Julius Jones gained 19 yards on 10 carries to lead the team, and Hasselbeck was right behind with 17 yards on four attempts. While T.J. Duckett scored two short touchdowns, he had a total of five yards on as many carries.

The win for Arizona was as huge as the loss for the Seahawks was devastating. Any hopes for climbing back into the race were eliminated for Seattle, while the Cardinals appeared set to win the division.

It did not go so easily for Arizona the remainder of the regular season, however, as the club lost its next two games and four of the last six to end up at 9-7. While they won the NFC West title, it was widely anticipated that the Cardinals would be dispatched quickly in the postseason, but instead they defeated Atlanta, Carolina, and Philadelphia, respectively, to advance to and win the NFC Championship before barely succumbing to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks finished at 4-12 for third place in the division.

Kurt Warner ranked among the league leaders with 4583 yards and 30 touchdown passes while completing 67.1 % of his passes with only 14 interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2001.

Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 12 touchdown receptions (tied with Detroit’s Calvin Johnson) and the NFC with 1431 yards on his 96 catches. Anquan Boldin (pictured below) had 89 pass receptions for 1038 yards and 11 TDs despite missing four games due to injuries. Both also were chosen for the Pro Bowl, and Fitzgerald received All-NFL recognition as well.