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Kolb becoming leader as Cardinals continue dream-like roll with big win over the Eagles

by | CBSSports.com
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Kevin Kolb and his wife, Whitney, are expecting their third daughter on Oct. 4 -- the same day the Cardinals face the Rams in St. Louis. At this rate, that's the only thing that will keep Arizona's quarterback out of the starting lineup.

With a chance to make a statement to his old team and his new one, Kolb turned in his best performance as a Cardinal since the 2011 season opener in a 27-6 whipping of the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.

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Kolb's numbers were impressive in their own right. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 127.4. But the symbolism of this win was far greater -- not just because Kolb did it to his former team and not just because the Cardinals moved to 3-0 for the first time since 1974. This win was a waking dream -- the one that fans and the franchise had always imagined possible if the team could just get solid quarterback play to complement its surging defense and superlative special teams.

"I'm going to put it in words in the offseason," Kolb said of defeating his old team and apparently solidifying his hold on the starting spot. "Hopefully, that comes with a ring and a lot of wins, but I don't even want to think about it right now. I just want to stay focused because I've done that in the past, tried to foresee the future, and every time, it comes up and knocks my legs out from under me."

Kolb's back story is well worn at this point. Following his trade to Arizona before the 2011 season, he battled head and foot injuries, as well as the lack of an offseason due to the lockout, and never found a comfort zone in a disappointing first season.

He had no such excuses this preseason when he struggled with pocket presence and tossed three interceptions to lose what appeared to be a firm grip on the starting job to former fifth-round pick John Skelton. But ever since Skelton suffered an ankle sprain and Kolb came off the bench to lead a 20-16 victory over Seattle in Week 1, his confidence has been surging.

"He looks more and more comfortable," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Everybody's talked about the quarterback competition. One thing I've always been a proponent of is that it makes players better. I think that's what we're seeing."

It helped that after a one-week lapse of reason, Kolb remembered the first order of the Cardinals offense: Get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald. The team's greatest weapon had nine catches for 114 yards and a 37-yard touchdown pass -- or "money ball," as Fitz likes to call it -- midway through the second quarter that gave Arizona a 17-0 lead.

With his second catch of the day, Fitzgerald became the youngest player to reach 700 career receptions by more than a year over Dallas tight end Jason Witten.

"Jerry Rice had [1,549] catches. I'm not even half way," Fitzgerald said. "That kind of puts it in perspective for me. I have a long way to go."

So do the Cardinals, a point that Kolb kept harping on in his postgame comments.

"This league can sneak up and you can lose three or four in a row just as fast as you win three or four in a row," he said. "We're going to stay humble."

The Cardinals are doing their best to keep Kolb that way. Before Sunday's game began, the team announced its list of inactive players and lineup changes to the media. Included in the latter was the substitution of Kolb for Skelton, who is still listed as the official starter.

Throughout the past two weeks, Whisenhunt has been coy when asked if Skelton would retain his starting job when he returns to health.

It's time to end that ruse because the Cardinals are on a dream-like roll. With wins over the Patriots and Eagles the past two weeks, the defense has solidified its place as one of the league's elite units. And with three wins in three outings this season, Kolb has finally solidified his hold on a job the Cardinals so desperately wanted him to grab when they dealt cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick to acquire him.

If Kurt Warner didn't teach Whisenhunt the value of solid quarterback play, Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson and Max Hall must have. Kolb hasn't been Warner, but he's been steady, efficient and effective while going three games without an interception.

Just as important, it appears he's also becoming the leader this club has lacked since Warner retired.

"He's handled the highs and lows of this game with grace -- like a professional should," center Lyle Sendlein said. "When things didn't go his way, he wasn't a distraction in the locker room, and that really showed us a lot about the guy he was."

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