There is no way to minimize the importance of Arizona's season-opening victory, and I'll tell you why: Because it happened on the road.
So, big deal. Teams win road games all the time, right? Only this team doesn't.
|Ken Whisenhunt and the Cards passed an opening challenge with flying colors. (Getty Images)|
"It's a very big deal," winning coach Ken Whisenhunt said Tuesday morning. "Look at the 16 games that were played last week. How many road teams won? Three? Four?"
Actually, it was six. But that means there were 10 others that lost. Arizona wasn't one of them, and that is significant.
"It doesn't happen around here very often," said Whisenhunt.
Precisely my point.
But why stop there? The Cards won in San Francisco, which means they beat a division opponent. OK, so the 49ers aren't exactly the 2007 Patriots, but they were good enough to vanquish Arizona twice last season.
Arizona also won by absolutely dominating the second half, and pass the stat book this way, please. The Cardinals held the ball for 22-and-a-half minutes over the third and fourth periods, outgaining the 49ers in yards, 161-72, and running off 29 more plays.
The key drive was an 18-play series that consumed over 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and ended with a game-clinching Neil Rackers field goal. It was the team's longest series since a 19-play possession in 1996, and it marked the beginning of a new era in Arizona.
"We were a little more efficient in the second half," said Whisenhunt.
Will Albert Pujols end his career with the Cardinals?
Total Votes: 3,306
But that's the way he and his coaching staff drew things up when they went through training camp, confident they could piece together a rushing attack that would allow them to sit on leads and grind the clock.
So what happens? In their first road test, they commit no turnovers, James runs for 100 yards and Warner settles down after a rusty first half and plays flawlessly.
Now let's see how that performance translates to the bigger picture. In case you missed it, Arizona ... yes, the Arizona Cardinals ... are the only team in the NFC West that won last weekend, which means they're the only team in first place in the division.
So, it's one week. It's one week more than they spent there a year ago.
Of course, it's defending champion Seattle -- not Arizona -- that is the team to beat there, but the Seahawks looked awful against Buffalo. They were beaten in every facet of the game, and, worse, lost wide receiver Nate Burleson with a knee injury. He's out for the season, which means Matt Hasselbeck is without his top three receivers.
Bobby Engram was hurt in preseason, Deion Branch is in the final stages of rehabilitation for a reconstructive knee surgery that took place in February and Burleson is done for the year.
There's a lot of talk about what happens to New England now that Tom Brady is lost for the season, but you might pose the same question to a Seattle team operating with no proven wide receivers. Suddenly, the Seahawks are vulnerable, which means, suddenly, we might have to take Arizona seriously.
I know, I know, I can't believe I made that statement either. But Whisenhunt knows what he's doing here, and the proof was last year's 8-8 finish. It doesn't seem like much, but, remember, these are the Cards we're talking about. It was the team's first non-losing season since 1998.
Now they've won a season opener on the road ... against a division opponent, no less ... and they did it in textbook Whisenhunt fashion, with the Cardinals playing a game of second-half keep-away with a dominant rushing attack.
If I'm Seattle, I'd start paying attention. The Arizona Cardinals just sent out a signal that they're serious about moving forward.