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Bickley: Warner's hard work pays off
Quarterback avoids turnovers, helps offense flourish in victory over Bills
50 commentsby Dan Bickley - Oct. 5, 2008 10:55 PM
The Arizona Republic
All week long, Kurt Warner was under heavy pressure. His two youngest children would chase him around the house, pretending they were Buffalo Bills. Their mission was to jar the football loose from daddy, who was holding on with two hands.
Pop Warner's offspring weren't at all successful, and with the stakes slightly higher, neither were the real Bills.
"He worked his tail off this week," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Warner laughed about the anecdote after a 41-17 thrashing of the Bills on Sunday, but it tells you something about the man leading the Cardinals' offense. He is taking nothing for granted. He is doing everything possible to keep a grip on the football and the starting job, to keep his turnovers in check and Matt Leinart on the sidelines.
It is proof that some old quarterbacks are not always like old canines. They can learn a few new tricks.
"I'm just trying to work on it any way I can," Warner said.
There are many reasons why the Cardinals thumped the previously unbeaten Bills in what amounted to another must-win game for the home team: Adrian Wilson knocked out Bills quarterback Trent Edwards on the third play of the game, leading to another concussed player sprawled out on a football field, the Cardinals had no turnovers and only four penalties, their offensive line was dramatically improved from that debacle in New York and the home-field advantage in Glendale has become almost palpable, leading to two lopsided victories in as many tries this season.
"This reminds me of playing in Death Valley, when you hear that crowd just starting to pick up on third downs," said rookie wide receiver Early Doucet, recalling his college days at Louisiana State. "The other team's offense gets rattled, and the defense makes a big play, gets a stop, or gets a turnover, and that momentum is real big. I think this is just like Death Valley, and I'm glad to be here."
But at its origin, this victory (like most) goes back to the quarterback.
Rebounding from his six-turnover performance against the Jets, Warner played another nearly flawless game and improved to 33-10 in games played indoors. He threw the ball to nine receivers, and his pinpoint passing made it easy for Steve Breaston and Doucet to make plays. He survived a helmet to his chin that required a giant bandage, proving again that his toughness is highly underrated. And he never let go of that football, even rushing once for 11 yards on a quarterback scramble.
"That was pretty sweet, wasn't it?" Warner said.
This game also shows the trust that Warner and Whisenhunt have in each other. If Dennis Green was still around, Warner would've been benched during that Jets game and Leinart would've started against the Bills, guaranteed.
This Cardinals coach never panicked when Warner had that disastrous first half against the Jets. Instead, Whisenhunt opened up the offense even more, playing to his strengths and giving his quarterback more freedom to control the game.
Against the Bills, Warner estimates he changed the play six to eight times at the line of scrimmage, checking from a run to a pass or vice versa. One of them resulted in a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald.
"We've also given Kurt the freedom to check the plays, and he's done an outstanding job with that," Whisenhunt said. "I think that's why we've been so successful offensively."
Conversely, Warner has been receptive to instruction and drills that may seem below a two-time NFL MVP. But in the end, it shows the healthy respect the quarterback and coach have in one another, even if it took them awhile to get to this place.
Now, this team has to sustain this level of performance. The Cardinals are back in first place, and the division is there for the taking. The NFC West is so bad that the last two teams to play in the Meadowlands allowed 100 points combined. And when Darnell Dockett looked at the scoreboard and saw the Seahawks getting pummeled by the Giants, he realized the opportunity at hand.
"We looked at that and said, 'Man, we gotta take this division,' " Dockett said.
Whatever it takes. Even if it means practicing with one's children.