For the first time all season, the Cardinals seemed comfortable wearing the title belt of defending NFC champions.
On the road, happiness is a soft bed and a silent stadium. The Cardinals were so good on Sunday that they suffocated a proud opponent and unplugged the 12th Man, those leather-lunged Seattle fans who once mocked our little red bird.
You know what it sounded like?
“Awesome,” Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson said. “We wanted to make sure we put our foot on their throats and not let them breathe.”
Finally, a football game without regrets and a football team that played hard for four quarters. The offense was sharp, the defense was sinister and the coaching was brilliant. Better yet, after a 27-3 pasting of the Seahawks, the visiting team didn’t even feel the need to celebrate. For the first time all season, the Cardinals seemed comfortable wearing the title belt of defending NFC champions.
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This is the football team that could buck all odds and return to the Super Bowl.
“Guys have really addressed the issues we had earlier in the season,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
In some ways, the performance began Saturday night, when Ken Whisenhunt assembled his players and told them how much he believed in this team. Then he pored over his laminated play card, which ranked his 10 favorite plays entering the game.
Privately, the head coach had a very good feeling. Whisenhunt is a tad superstitious, and last year, a dramatic goal-line stand preceded a big win in Seattle. History would soon repeat itself, partly due to Whisenhunt’s nifty sideline maneuvering.
He called great plays on the opening drive, a methodical journey that took nearly 11 minutes, long enough to make Lewis and Clark proud. And then he listened to his gut, calling for a surprise pooch kickoff that was promptly recovered by the visitors.
The game began at 1:05 p.m. It was 1:30 by the time Seattle’s offense stepped on the field. By then, the Cardinals were leading 14-0, and firmly in control.
“It’s fun to kick for coach Whisenhunt because he’s not afraid to call those plays,” said kicker Neil Rackers.
In case you noticed, those outrageous sideburns on Rackers’ face actually serve a purpose. He is dressing up as the Wolverine for Halloween. He won’t be nearly as frightening as the Cardinals defense.
The best rush defense in the NFL yielded only 14 yards on the ground, and yielded zero third-down conversions. But it was their dead-last ranking against the pass that inspired this unit to perform without interruption, and over 60 minutes of hard-hat football, the only weapon the Seahawks could muster was a fake punt.
That bit of trickery prevented the defense’s first shutout since 1992, back when they were the Phoenix Cardinals.
“Another laugher,” owner Bill Bidwill quipped.
Generally, Bidwill uncorks that line after a close win or a game decided on the final play. This time, it really was a laugher, one that comes with a caveat.
The Seahawks were dinged up, with enough key injuries to warrant a one-sided contest. Their offensive line was mashed potatoes. Their depleted secondary was simply abused by Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. And guess what? You can fit the people who care on the back of a motorcycle.
In this league, injuries are an excuse, and excuses are for losers.
“We did a lot of good things on both sides of the ball today,” Whisenhunt said. “If you look at where we were at the start of the season, we’ve cleaned up a lot of things.”
Next up is a nationally televised game in New York, against a powerful Giants team coming off an embarrassing loss. It doesn’t sound pleasant, and here’s the rub:
Last year’s team would’ve treated a road victory against the Seahawks as a free pass to mail in a road game against the Giants. We’ll find out how super this team can be soon enough.