Kurt Warner came into the Cardinals – Packers playoff game with the second-best lifetime QB rating in NFL history. Only Bart Starr is better. Did everyone forget about that?
During the Sunday pregame shows on CBS, NBC and ESPN, only one football analyst picked the Cardinals to defeat the Packers (Bill Cowher). Everyone else picked the Packers. 14 out of 15 of the so-called experts were swayed. Swayed by what? The Packers meaningless win the week before against Arizona? The Cardinals lackluster play over the last four meaningless games of their season?
And a host of Packer fans were wrong. The prevailing sentiment in the week leading up to the game was that the Packers would win going away. I kept scratching my head at that. When I predicted the Packers pulling out a close victory (31-27), I was putting on a brave face, but inside, I feared Kurt Warner. In my mind, a close win would be the best case scenario. Packer fans kept telling me it wouldn’t be that close. I wanted to believe, I really did.
Yet I feared that Warner would pick apart the Packers secondary like he did the Vikings secondary in week 13, the last meaningful game the Cardinals had played. Although his numbers in that game came nowhere near those from this past weekend’s spectacle, I gained a healthy respect for his decision-making and timing. Kurt Warner delivers the ball to the right receiver, at the right time and in the right spot.
Enter the Packers secondary, an injury-depleted and seemingly easily-confused mish-mosh of over-rated players and waiver-wire pickups. There, I said it. Excluding, of course, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson. Can you picture the Packers secondary without him?
Certainly, Kurt Warner and Ken Wisenhunt’s eyes must have popped out like Marty Feldman’s when they studied Packers game films. There was plenty there for them to like. From a supposed All-Pro safety that will make the occasional big play but struggles with consistency to the infamous Jarret Bush, helplessly chasing after his man while trying to locate the ball. Throw in the suspiciously disappearing Atari Bigby, athletic but mentally unprepared Brandon Underwood, and just not NFL-caliber Matt Giordano, and there was bound to be a Cardinal party in the Packers defensive backfield.
The only hope for the Packers, of course, would be to make Kurt Warner uncomfortable. But it had to happen from the base defense, which the Packers have not been able to do against quality opponents. With the 4-5 receiver sets the Cardinals dialed up, blitzing a DB was not a good option. Blitzing another linebacker may have helped, if the Packers had a linebacker besides Clay Matthews that can get to the quarterback.
Unfortunately, they don’t.
Barnett 15 sacks – 7 years
Hawk 8.5 sacks – 4 years
Chillar 7.5 sacks – 6 years
WIthout the ability to put real pressure on Warner, the Packers were forced to mostly play their nickel and dime packages, putting the defense’s fate in the hands of the secondary. It was a lose-lose proposition.
I expected the Packers offense to be able to put up enough points to win the game, and certainly 45 points would normally qualify. And yet, it wasn’t enough. Plenty of fingers are being pointed. The fault lies with Dom Capers, Aaron Rodgers turnovers, the referees, Nick Barnett, Jarret Bush, etc.
But there’s really only one man to blame for this loss; The man who once before threw 5 TDs in a playoff game, the man with a 9-3 playoff record, the man with the second best playoff QB rating in NFL history; Kurt Warner, the quiet desert assassin who always saves his best for the big games.
And yes, his bust will one day reside in Canton.
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