As much as our physical and mental health would like every game to be a twenty-point blow-out, the 2008 Arizona Cardinals thought they would go "old-school" and give a national audience a taste of the '70's with a Cardiac Cards performance. From the opening kick-off return for a 49ers' touchdown, through a shaky first half, and finally through the roller-coaster penalty-fest of the second half, the Cardinals tested the physiology of all NFL fans by surviving a game that for years would have seen them on the losing side. Every win cannot be a pearl, but there are certainly some pearls of wisdom to take from this 29-24 victory that gives the 6-3 Cardinals a dominating four-game divisional lead over the rest of the NFC West.
Forcing the 49ers' Into Mistakes
The 49ers played an inspired game and looked like the better team for half of the game. As the game progressed and the Cardinals' defensive pressure mounted, Shaun Hill began to make mistakes. Two of those mistakes were moot, interceptions returned for TDs that were overturned by penalties on the Cardinals, but Dansby and Wilson's INTs late in the game were critical to holding off the 49ers. Still, the most critical plays were the lack of ones called by the 49ers' coaching staff. In the third quarter, Singletary called for a FG while Mike Martz looked intent for going for the fourth down play. This tug of war of control may have foreshadowed the biggest mistake as the 49ers squandered seconds off the clock trying to clock the ball. Two running plays to end the game with no timeouts...well, are questionable at best and calls Singletary claimed were all Martz's.
Mental Toughness — Gain Some Wisdom
This was a game where the entire officiating crew was getting their wrists iced down after throwing flags on 20 accepted penalties, ten for each team, and several more that were picked up or declined. Most of these fouls were "mental" mistakes rather than technique errors. Two of these penalties wasted timely interceptions that would have been returned for touchdowns (and one ESPN targeted back flip by Rolle...he stuck it this time). Playing inspired, energetic football does not have to include persistent penalties as well. The entire roster, especially the offensive and defensive lines, needs to keep their energy focused and play wisely to avoid the pre-snap penalties.
Kurt Warner Strengthens His MVP Resume
During the post-game interview with the ESPN staff, the crowd began to chant "M-V-P-M-V-P" and Kurt Warner's eyes glanced up towards the crowd and there was a flash of a knowing smirk on his face. An MVP leads a team to victory when victory seems unlikely and Kurt's performance (32 of 42 for 328 yards and 3 TDs) on Monday Night Football exemplifies this. Kurt spread the ball around consistently to the Big Three, reinforcing their Pro Bowl talent. An MVP makes the team around him better and when that includes the talents of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin that is quite intimidating to opposing defenses.
The Cardinals won a game that they wouldn't have won in years (decades!) past and should be thankful that they stuck it out together as a team. The final defensive stand, questionable calls withstanding, was a team effort and gives the Cardinals a strengthened identity. The run game was lacking but as we have seen this season, it will come and go depending on the ebb and flow of the game. There are so many different points to discuss with this game, many we've already touched upon. What do you think was the key to this exciting win? What woud you have done different if you were wearing the coach's headset? Regardless, 6-3 sounds pretty damn sweet especially when it's followed by "NFC West dominating Arizona Cardinals".
Finally, Paybacks Are a .... an Ex-wife? Remember a few years back, the Cardinals heading for the same end zone against the 49ers at home, Kurt Warner leading the team down to the one yard line, no time outs, needing a TD to win the game? Leonard Davis false-starts and incurs a 10-second run-off...game over. Niners win. Last night's game is a good start towards calling it "even".