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The Plays That Shaped The Season

Posted Feb 11, 2010

These moments made an impact on the Cards in 2009

Safety Antrel Rolle celebrates the fourth-down goal-line stop with less than a minute left in a 28-21 win over the Texans.
 
 
Every season, there are plays that stand out.

Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie’s interception return for a touchdown against Houston. Antrel Rolle’s touchdown return of a blocked field goal in Jacksonville. Kurt Warner’s blind touchdown pass to a diving Larry Fitzgerald in the playoff game against Green Bay.

There were others, of course, plays that inevitably make the highlight reel.

Then there are the plays that shape a season.

It’s all opinion, of course (in this case, mine) and such plays can still end up on ESPN at the end of the day. But not always. Sometimes, they are smaller, seemingly more insignificant – at least until you start to break down their impact, especially long-term.

In that vein, here are six plays that, in the ebb and flow of an NFL season, helped create the 2009 Cardinals:

The goal-line stand vs. Houston

DRC’s huge TD interception gave the Cards the game-winning points. But it was the team holding up down on the goal-line (pictured above) -- three stops with the Texans on the Cards’ 1-yard line -- with less than a minute left in a 28-21 win that ultimately provided the team the boost it needed. Coming into the game, the Cards were 1-2. Then they dominated in building a 21-0 lead against Houston, only to allow the Texans to come back. Had the Cards lost, it might’ve sent the season into a tailspin. Instead, off the momentum of the emotional stop, the Cards reeled off three straight wins and six of seven.

Steve Breaston’s 23-yard catch at Chicago

 
The Cardinals were coming off a terrible home loss against Carolina and were going on the road to play a Bears’ team still in the hunt. In need of a fast start, Kurt Warner – who had six turnovers the week before – had his first two passes fall incomplete. The crowd was jacked up for a stop, until Warner coolly found Breaston for a 23-yard gain. On the next play, Tim Hightower rumbled 13 yards on a run – the Cards ran for 182 yards in the game – and Bears DT Tommie Harris was ejected for punching G Deuce Lutui. The Cards scored a touchdown on the drive, and even though the Bears answered, it was the start of a spectacular five-touchdown day for Warner. Warner began his hottest stretch of the season that day in the Windy City, no doubt helped when Breaston made a grab just a minute into the game.

Warner’s hit in St. Louis

At the time, it certainly looked innocuous: Warner, throwing a completion during a touchdown drive, was hit by Rams safety OJshiomogho Atogwe and crashed to the turf. Warner played
 
another six plays and led the Cards to a touchdown. After the game, Warner insisted he should be fine to play the following week. But he wasn’t. Warner had a concussion, and in the week that followed, clearly became affected not only by his plight but a need to stand up for every player and protect himself in such a situation when the easier choice was to simply play the next week. Warner brought heaps of national attention to the NFL/concussion issue. He gave Matt Leinart his one chance to play a full game since 2007 when Leinart played in Tennessee and provided the Cards at least some hope for Leinart’s future. While it probably didn’t become the main factor in Warner’s retirement, it likely played a role. And it showed again just how crucial Warner was to how the Cardinals operated.

Anquan Boldin’s 39-yard touchdown catch vs. Minnesota

The Cardinals were coming off that crushing loss in Tennessee knowing they had powerful
 
Minnesota visiting – on “Sunday Night Football,” no less. The last time the Cards hosted on a national TV appearance, they were picked apart by Peyton Manning and the Colts. Warner was playing for the first time since sustaining his concussion. Yet the Cards played like a Super Bowl contender, buoyed by a vintage Boldin play. In a 7-7 game, Boldin made a tremendous back-shoulder grab in tight coverage on the sideline, then sprinted downfield, faked another defender to the ground, and dove in for the score that gave the Cards the lead they never relinquished. It was the play, and the game, that drove home to the nation the Cardinals would indeed follow up their Super Bowl appearance with success.

Aaron Rodgers’ “championship belt”

The Cardinals weren’t going to show much in their season finale against the Packers, knowing before kickoff Green Bay was going to have to return a week later for the playoffs. With the
 
advantage tilted toward the Packers – who didn’t pull back – Green Bay dominated. But after Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers scored on a quarterback sneak, he jumped up in the end zone and pantomimed putting on a belt, like one might win in wrestling or boxing. The move – caught by TV cameras -- didn’t sit well with the Cards, who took note and then watched the move repeatedly during prep work the following week. The Packers certainly scored often in the playoff game, but the Cards won and in the first half the defense made Rodgers’ life hell – and Cards’ defenders insisted afterward they had been thinking about Rodgers’ “belt.”

Money Mike gets the Pack

Sometimes, the plays that shape are the highlight plays. That’s the case with Michael Adams
 
Money Mike to his teammates – and his overtime sack/forced fumble of Rodgers to win the Wild Card game. As poorly as the defense performed in the second half of the game, it was the defense that came up with the big play and the winning points when Karlos Dansby grabbed the loose ball in midair and sprinted for a touchdown. With the way the regular season had finished, the Cards had picked up doubters again, and for a brief time those cries increased when the Cards couldn’t hold a 31-10 lead in the playoff game. Money Mike erased those concerns, and let the Cards leave their last home game a winner.
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