With a little more than two minutes to go in their playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons, it looked like the Arizona Cardinals were on the verge of becoming…well, the Arizona Cardinals. Up 30-24, they had just called an inexplicable reverse that had been blown up, leading to a huge 3rd-and-16 from midfield. If they didn’t convert, they would give the ball back to the Falcons and their Rookie of the Year QB Matt Ryan, who had just scored easily in their previous possession.
And then something amazing happened: with their season potentially on the line, the Cardinals made a huge play. Kurt Warner found TE Steven Spach alone in Falcons’ secondary (after a major foul-up by Atlanta’s linebackers) for a first down, letting Arizona run out the clock on their first home playoff victory in 61 years.
Having spent some time in Arizona over the holidays, I was shocked to hear that there was a chance that the game might not be a sell out, based on the level of excitement I noted from fans and the general public. And it turns out it was a sell out. Our own Tuffy was at the game, and as you can see from this picture, it wasn’t a “paper sell out” either, but rather a sea of Cardinals red:
The difference in the game? The Cardinals were able to do two things that they hadn’t done for the past month or so: play defense and run the ball. Maybe playing in a game that actually mattered spurred the team on? Warner was efficient, but the game ball has to go to the offensive line, which opened up big holes for Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower while keeping Warner’s jersey clean.
So now we’re on to the nightcap. Will LaDainian Tomlinson’s groin hold up (and would you want someone asking that question about you unless you were a porn star)? Will Peyton Manning get some help from his running game, or will he have to carry the Colts again? Should be interesting to see which hot team stays hot and which one goes home.