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  • Jan

    Cardinals Top McNabb, Eagles 32-25 – Advance to Franchise’s 1st Super Bowl

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    You couldn’t ask for a better start to your NFL playoffs Sunday with the opening battle between 2 relentless teams. In the end – – the Arizona Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 on Sunday afternoon to win the NFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 in Tampa Bay, Florida. This is truly an historic game for the Arizona Cardinals organization. The Cardinals had never made it to the Super Bowl in franchise history and had not played in a conference championship game since 1948. Their 3 playoff victories this season already surpasses the total number of playoff victories recorded by the organization since playoffs began in 1933. The Cardinals are the first team to advance to a Super Bowl with only 9 wins in a regular season since the Rams did so back in 1979 (the Rams lost to the Steelers that year). With a total of 12 victories right now, it is the winning-est season for the Cardinals in franchise history.

    It was an incredible game to watch as each team’s future Hall of Fame quarterback was at his best for “most” of the contest. First Arizona’s winning quarterback Kurt Warner – 21 of 28 for 279 yards and 4 touchdowns. Warner and the Cardinals exploded for 24 1st half points to take a commanding 24-6 halftime lead. Warner connected with stud wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on touchdown passes of 9 yards, 62 yards and 1 yard to set an NFC Championship Game record. The Cardinals looked like they knew exactly what the Eagles defense was going to do each and every play, and they took advantage of it. But then came the 2nd half. The Cardinals and Warner seemed to play a little bit stiff and the offense couldn’t generate anything consistent. That ineptitude allowed the Eagles to claw their way back into the game.

    Second, Philadelphia’s losing quarterback Donovan McNabb – 28 of 47 for 375 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception. The Eagles offense looked bewildered in the 1st half. The Eagles managed only 2 field goals in the 1st half and found themselves trailing the Cardinals 24-6 at halftime. But then came the 2nd half. McNabb and the eagles scored 19 unanswered points in the 3rd and 4th quarters and found themselves with a 25-24 lead with just under 11 minutes to play in the game. McNabb hit Brent Celek with 2 touchdown passes in the 3rd quarter, but after the 2nd one, the Eagles David Akers missed the PAT which kept the score at 24-19. Some analysts questioned whether Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid should have gone for the 2-point conversion at this point to cut the Cardinals lead to 3 points. But since the Eagles had not gone for a 2-point conversion once during the regular season (Reid and his staff is known for not “chasing that point all game long” if you don’t make the 2-point conversion), it was not surprising that Reid sent out Akers for the extra point attempt. After McNabb connected with DeSean Jackson on an acrobatic 62-yard touchdown pass in which Jackson had to tip the ball in the air a few times before he corralled it in for the score, the Eagles were forced to go for 2 points to try to push the lead from 1 point to 2 points. The McNabb pass to Brian Westbrook failed and were stuck at 25-24.

    Up until this point, the Cardinals offense had practically nothing to show for itself in the 2nd half. The Cardinals gained only 9 yards in the 3rd quarter, and had its only drive in the 4th quarter stall once they got into Steelers territory. With 10:45 left, the Cardinals now found themselves trailing for the 1st time in the game, with their backs up against the wall. But they found a way to come through in the clutch. Warner orchestrated a 14-play, 72-yard drive that took almost 8 minutes off the clock. The Cardinals converted an all-important 4th and 1 at midfield, which kept the drive alive for the Cardinals. Just a few plays later, Warner connected with Tim Hightower on a 9-yard screen pass and run which gave the Cardinals a 5-point lead. Warner’s 2-point conversion pass to Ben Patrick upped the lead to 7 points and the rest was history. Warner has now probably earned himself a spot in the Hall of Fame. Warner has played in 3 NFC Championship Games, and he has won all 3. Warner was the NFL’s MVP twice in 1999 and 2001 and each year he led his team to the Super Bowl. And now he finds himself back in the big game 8 years later.

    On the other side of the ball, McNabb, Reid and the Eagles must be sorely disappointed. Five NFC Championship Games in the last 8 years, and only one trip to the Super Bowl. It doesn’t get any worse than that (except maybe for the 4 straight Super Bowl losses suffered by the Buffalo Bills from 1989 through 1991).

    The Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl match-up is an interesting one. Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt was the Steelers Offensive Coordinator when the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006. After Bill Cowher retired following the 2006-7 NFL season, the Rooney family and the Steelers elected to go outside the organization and hire Mike Tomlin as the Head Coach. Whisenhunt saw this as a snub by the Steelers, and he decided to leave to take the Arizona Cardinals Head Coach position. Fellow long-time Steelers assistant Russ Grimm also left the Steelers and is now Whisenhunt’s top assistant in Arizona. In taking the Steelers to a Super Bowl appearance in just his 2nd year, Tomlin is doing something that Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher couldn’t do for the Steelers organization. Whisenhunt is also taking his team to the Super Bowl in only his 2nd year as Head Coach. Either way, we will have a bright, new head coach earn his 1st Super Bowl win, and that is good for football. May the best team win…

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