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Warner has been catalyst to Cardinals success

By Eric Stevens
November 10, 2009
When Kurt Warner re-signed with the Arizona Cardinals on March 4, 2009, I can honestly say that I thought management had made a huge mistake. Warner was 37 (about to turn 38), and had just taken his team to an improbable Super Bowl XLIII appearance. It seemed as if the ’08-’09 season was his “ride into the sunset,” and that it was a great time to bring in the young gun, Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart. The Cardinals had three extraordinary receivers (Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston), and a steadily increasing running game with Tim Hightower. It just seemed like all the pieces were in place to say goodbye to Warner and hello to the new age of Matt Leinart.
Warner signed a two-year contract worth $23 million, an exorbitant amount of money for a guy who would be almost 40 years old when it ran out (keep in mind, this is before Brett Favre’s resurgence with the Minnesota Vikings, and to be completely honest, it simply took a QB slightly more competent than Tarvaris Jackson to keep the opposing defenses not wholly consumed with stopping Adrian Peterson). It seemed like a deal destined to destroy the team, as they would have no choice other than to start Warner because of the amount of money they were paying him. The press was talking about the rigorous off-season work being put in by heir-to-the-throne Leinart, and it seemed like he was poised to take off in a system designed for him to succeed. And yet, despite all of this, the Cardinals decided to take a leap of faith on a guy who could be doing Levitra commercials.
This season, however, Warner has been as good, if not better, than he was last year. Yes, he’s had his share of mediocre games (San Francisco and Indy, 2 interceptions each), and one complete bomb (Carolina, 5 interceptions), but aside from those, he’s been near superhuman. In Arizona’s five wins so far, he has a completion rate of 71.6% with 12 TDs and 2 INTs. Warner has embraced the Cardinals mantra (“Pass first, ask questions later”), and is willing to take the responsibility of putting up 40+ pass attempts per game, whether it makes him the hero or the goat.
Looking ahead at the remaining schedule, Warner should be more excited than Rex Ryan at a buffet line. The secondary units he’s going to face include the banged-up Seattle Seahawks, the “Saddest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams (two games), the Detroit Lions, and the Green Bay Packers (who pathetically lost to the now 1-7 Bucs). In between those atrocities the Cardinals match up against the Titans (unpredictable with “Mighty Joe” Vince Young in at QB), the Vikings (no matter what, bet the over), and the 49ers (a highly schizophrenic team with Alex Smith in). None of these teams, minus the Vikings, hold the same weight as teams in the first half of the season, which included the Colts, Bears, and Giants (before the collapse).
The Cardinals need to do everything they can to avoid the letdown that was the second half of the 2008 season when they went 4-4. The key to this, as is the key to every game the Cardinals play, is going to be Kurt Warner. With his three key receivers expected to be back next week, and the running game showing signs of actual production this season (Hightower 3.6 yards per rush, Wells 4.4 yards per rush), Warner can relax knowing that his offense will be firing on all cylinders.
If I were forced to give a grade to the Cardinals at the halfway point, I’d say that they deserve a solid “B,” basically because of the Carolina collapse and the Sunday Night Meltdown against the Colts. Other than those games, they’ve looked like a legitimate contender, pouring the points on teams and completely overwhelming them offensively. If Warner continues to produce at this pace, Cardinals fans can get ready for games in late January, and if all goes well, a trip to balmy Miami on February 7. It all rests in the hands of Kurt Warner (literally).