Cardinals cornerback Bryant McFadden can't stop a touchdown pass to Saints wideout Devery Henderson during Saturday's 45-14 Saints' win.
NEW ORLEANS – It felt like magic the way it started, with Tim Hightower ripping off a 70-yard touchdown run on the game's first play to stun the screaming Louisiana Superdome crowd.
Then the magic disappeared. Quickly.
In its place were a rash of injuries. Too many missed tackles. A scary powerful Saints' offense.
The Cardinals' 2009 playoff run ended painfully Saturday with a 45-14 loss to the No. 1-seeded Saints, a difficult loss to a season that had been so successful.
"It is difficult knowing how hard we worked," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "and to have us ultimately come up short of our goal."
The Saints host the NFC Championship game next weekend. The Cards are left to what will be an interesting offseason with many key decisions to make with personnel. One decision is out of their hands – whether quarterback Kurt Warner retires or comes back.
Warner reiterated again after the game he will take time to figure out his choice.
"I want to get away from the season for a minute," he said, insisting the huge hit he took from Saints defensive end Bobby McCray that briefly knocked him from the game will not be a factor.
Warner had hoped to delay the decision longer as the Cards kept going in the playoffs. And when Hightower sliced upfield for his game-opening score, it seemed to portend great things for the Cards.
Instead, it turned into a hiccup during the Saints' performance.
The Saints responded to Hightower's play with a relatively easy 10-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. It looked like the contest would turn into the video-game replica many predicted, matching the score-fest the Cards and Packers had played the week before.
But on the Cards' very next play, a pass to Jerheme Urban that quickly gained 28 yards turned sour when Urban was stripped from behind and Saints safety Darren Sharper picked up the loose ball. It took the Saints just four plays to burn up 37 yards and score another touchdown.
"Playoffs are a game of momentum, especially when you are playing good teams," Warner said. "You just can't give them momentum."
An Arizona punt later, the Cards' day skewed worse. With safety Antrel Rolle already on the sideline with a concussion, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had his day end when a Saint collided with his left knee. On the next play, Reggie Bush scampered 46 yards after breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage for a score.
Rodgers-Cromartie said he believes he tore ligaments, but Whisenhunt said the extent of the injury was unclear until Rodgers-Cromartie undergoes an MRI Sunday.
The Cardinals did manage to cut the lead to 21-14 early in the second quarter, but the Saints scored again on a 44-yard flea flicker pass from Drew Brees to Devery Henderson.
On the next possession, Warner not only was intercepted by defensive end Will Smith, but he was blindsided on a violent block by McCray. It only knocked Warner out of the game for a possession with bruised ribs, but it summed up the Cards' lousy day.
The Cardinals' defense simply couldn't slow the Saints' offense a week after the Packers moved at will in the second half of the Wild Card victory.
"They were two good offenses in rhythm," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "We had a lot of adversity (with the injuries). And we just didn't execute."
"When you lose two defensive starters in the secondary, they are going to expose those things," Whisenhunt said.
Bush later added an 83-yard punt return in the second half as the Saints controlled the clock.
The Saints only outgained the Cardinals, 419 yards to 359, but New Orleans had the ball for 13 more minutes, didn't turn the ball over and never really seemed out of control of where the game was headed.
"The season," Warner said, "didn't end the way we wanted it to."
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