Finally, the preseason is over. With few adjustments, the 2009 edition of Big Red is about to run on the field at University of Phoenix Stadium this Sunday. They will unfurl a banner that declares the accomplishments of this team; the banner will say there wasn’t a better team in the National Football Conference than the Arizona Cardinals in 2008.
Finally, we’re going to find something out about this team. The end of preseason brings a promise of resolution. Questions surround this team in preseason and the “experts” are circling in the water. Many don’t believe what the Cardinals did last season was for real and they haven’t jumped on the Cards 2009 Big Red Bandwagon either.
Finally, the pundits might be silenced. The Cardinals 2009 preseason didn’t make the people-in-the-know take pause. Never mind that the Cardinals didn’t game plan a single element or phase of the game; never mind their offense was not at full strength; forget about all of this. The offense couldn’t score touchdowns in the red zone, turned the ball over too many times, had too many penalties and looked out of sync at times; the defense couldn’t generate a pass rush, didn’t create turnovers and allowed the Packers and the Broncos to move the ball and score points; they looked uniquely beatable. Overall, the Cards looked like they did in late November and early December on their way to an 0-4 preseason.
Finally, this time next week, after the Cardinals open their season at home against the San Francisco 49’ers, we’ll know a lot more about this team. There will be a decree: Big Red’s preseason was a warning shot over the bow of the USS Regular Season or the personality of this team will be witnessed once again.
I expect the decree will include a cry of, “All is well!”
The personality of this team came into full view last season. The Cards got off to a 7-3 start, lost the next two games, clinched the NFC West on December 7th and then, seemingly, lost interest. They got pounded at home by Minnesota, took a beating in New England and finished with a less than impressive victory over a beat up Seattle team. Still, after all the success followed by failure, they went on one of the greatest post-season runs the NFL has ever seen, beating the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles on their way to Super Bowl 43, a Super Bowl in which they had the lead with 2:37 to play!
You don’t do that unless you have great talent and the Cards have great talent. Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Tim Hightower and co. were one of the best offenses in the league in 2008. Adrian Wilson, Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, Antrelle Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC) played their best football at the end of last season and are recognized across the league as having great talent.
Talent aside, the obvious observation of this team is that they play their best football when they are engaged and have something to prove. That’s why their talent shined last post-season and looked flat this preseason. They were challenged by the national media and played with a chip-on-their-shoulder. The preseason is a chipless part of the season; their performance fits their MO.
But Sunday is another story. This is a game that fits their personality profile. The lights will be bright when Big Red takes the field against the 49’ers, a team many think will challenge for the NFC West title. The NFC Championship banner will be unfurled, the Red Sea will become a tumult, the towels will be waved, the proclamations uttered and the baton will be under assault as showstoppers fight to be the leader of the band.
This game presents Big Red a chip. If they don’t play well and lose the game as NFC Champion, with their unfurled banner hanging on the wall, against a division rival dealing with the Red Sea, you have my attention and I will not dismiss preseason so readily in the future.
But if they play well – which I think they will – and win the game you will be witnessing a collection of individuals that possess a rare quality in all of sports, a quality I have never witnessed or experienced: the ability to flip-the-switch and play well when the lights are turned all the way up.
Finally, we are going to discover if Big Red learned from their Super Bowl experience or not. One game does not make a season but the stakes are high, the lights are bright, the waters run red and we shall all bare witness to the outcome…finally.