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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Arizona finally shows Super Bowl form

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Finally, the Arizona Cardinals are looking like the team that rolled through the playoffs to the Super Bowl — just in time for a Sunday night matchup with the perturbed New York Giants.

Arizona’s dominating 27-3 victory in Seattle on Sunday marked the first time this season the inconsistent Cardinals have put together a complete game.

“It gives us momentum. It gives us a lot of confidence,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said on Monday. “We know what we can do. We knew we had the ability to do it, and to finally see it happen was a good feeling.”

Kurt Warner dissected the Seahawks defense to quiet one of the noisiest stadiums in the NFL and the Arizona defense allowed only a field goal, and that was set up by a fake punt.

“I don’t want to get too caught up in it because it’s the fifth game of the season,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt, who is 10-4 against NFC West opponents since coming to Arizona. “I think the thing that I am excited about is we are improving.”

Warner threw to Larry Fitzgerald 15 times, and the All-Pro receiver caught 13 of them, tying a career best. The 38-year-old quarterback completed 32 of 41 for 276 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.

In the process, he surpassed 30,000 yards passing in 114 career games, tying Dan Marino as the fastest to do so in NFL history.

“You’re in the midst of so many other things right now that you don’t ever think of individual stuff,” Warner said. “I guess it will become great 10 years from now or 20 years from now when I sit with my grandkids and I can start bragging different accomplishments, but right now forget it. … I’ve got more things I want to achieve as a team and that’s my focus.”

About the only bad news out of the game was the ankle injury to wide receiver Anquan Boldin. Whisenhunt said X-rays showed no broken bones and his status would be evaluated as the week progressed.

The three points allowed were the fewest given up by the Cardinals on the road since, get this, 1974. It was their fewest allowed in any game in a decade.

Seattle rushed for 15 yards, the lowest total in Seahawks history, in 11 carries.

The Seahawks were 0 for 11 on third down. Matt Hasselbeck, playing behind a makeshift offensive line, completed 10 of 29 for 112 yards with one interception and was sacked five times. Seattle had 154 yards passing, but 42 of them came on the fake punt.

A week earlier, Arizona had opened a 21-0 halftime lead against Houston only to allow the Texans to rally to tie it before the Cardinals escaped with a 28-21 victory. There was no such defensive letdown in Seattle.

“We played together defensively as a team,” Whisenhunt said. “It was a bunch of different guys making plays. We had five sacks and we had a bunch of different guys making those sacks. When you talk about a good defense, the one thing I remember from my days in Pittsburgh when we were playing at our best was that it was a team effort. That’s what I saw yesterday.”

Dansby said the team had been too concerned about proving last season’s playoff run was no fluke.

“Everybody here’s been uptight, man,” he said. “We just played football, and it was fun.”

Arizona, not long ago one of the NFL’s worst road teams, is 2-0 away from home this season. In both the victory at Jacksonville and at Seattle, the Cardinals opened the game with long scoring drives.

Against the Seahawks, Arizona took the kickoff and went 80 yards in 15 plays, using up nearly 10 minutes and 42 seconds in the process, with Warner throwing 2 yards to Fitzgerald for the score.

“I think everybody feeds off of it,” Warner said. “The opponent, they’ve got the homefield advantage and now you’ve got the fans out of it. They’re sitting on the sidelines for so long just waiting for the opportunity. And then on top of that, you have them down 7-0.”

Then on the subsequent kickoff, Neil Rackers’ pooch kick was recovered by Arizona rookie Greg Toler at the Seattle 23. Three plays later, Tim Hightower’s 2-yard touchdown run made it 14-0, and the Seahawks offense hadn’t even been on the field yet.

The 24-point margin of victory was the largest on the road for the Cardinals since a 40-7 rout in New Orleans in 1980, eight years before the franchise moved to Arizona.

With the victory, the Cardinals are in a tie with idle San Francisco for first in the NFC West at 3-2. But with the Giants game looming, followed by a home contest against Carolina, then a trip to Chicago, Arizona is in a tough stretch of its schedule.

Maybe that’s why safety Adrian Wilson downplayed the Seattle victory. Instead, he referred to the Cardinals’ last Sunday night performance, a 31-10 blowout home loss to Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 27.

Now it’s Peyton’s brother Eli and the Giants, who are coming off their first loss of the season, 48-27 in New Orleans.

“I just know we play New York next. I don’t care about stats or any of that,” Wilson said. “We want to win this game. It’s a big game for us. The last time we played on national TV, it wasn’t a good game.”

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