Kurt Warner, meet Jared Allen. Jared Allen, meet Kurt Warner.
Cardinals fans, meet the end of the season as you know it.
With Cardinals QB Kurt Warner still suffering from symptoms related to the concussion he suffered almost two weeks ago in St. Louis, Ken Whisenhunt has had Warner split the practice reps with backup QB Matt Leinart in the event that Warner sits out his second straight game.
If Whisenhunt is smart – and I believe he is – he will give Leinart the nod Sunday night and Kurt one less day of getting hurried, knocked down and beat up. Plus, it can’t hurt to give Leinart the start after he spent the week practicing with the starters.
Now, I know this is a big game for the Cardinals. The game got flexed to Sunday Night Football because it matches up two of the NFC’s best teams, featuring two of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. The last time the Cardinals hosted Sunday Night Football they laid an egg the size of Brett Favre’s ego, and there is no doubt they would like to atone for that loss while proving that they are among the NFC’s elite.
But there is a bigger picture to focus on right now, and that is winning the NFC West and reaching the playoffs. At 7-4 the Cardinals hold a two game lead over the 5-6 San Francisco 49ers with five games to play, meaning the magic number for the Cardinals to reach the postseason for a second straight year is four. But, with a date with the 49ers looming, a loss to the Vikings Sunday coupled with a 49ers win on the road in Seattle would leave the Cardinals up just one game and the Niners with a chance to take the division lead with a win.
The way I see it, whether the Cardinals win Sunday or not, the Monday Night game in San Francisco is the most important one left on the schedule. Beat Minnesota and lose to the 49ers and you still – at best – have a two game lead in the division, whereas a win in San Francisco, regardless of what happens Sunday, could put the final nail in the 49ers’ playoffs coffin. Thus, Kurt Warner absolutely must be ready to play in top form when the Cardinals head to the Bay Area.
Really, what it comes down to is there is no reason to risk Warner’s status for the 49ers game and every game that follows just so he can play Sunday. If it seems like I’m already counting the Vikings game as a loss, well, I pretty much am – and that’s OK. A loss to the Vikings is not nearly as damaging as a week 13 loss to the 49ers would be, and that is exactly what the Cardinals need to prevent from happening.
Because, if the Cardinals lose Sunday (likely) and cost themselves the following week’s game as well, they’d be staring at a three game losing streak and a tight race for the division title. And that, my friends, is a scenario none of us want to be introduced to.
Adam can be reached with your questions and comments by e-mail here.