Running back Tim Hightower plunges into the end zone for a touchdown Sunday against San Francisco, one of the Cards' two TDs in seven red-zone trips.
Last year, if the Cardinals got in the red zone, they were scoring points.
And last year, if they got in the red zone, they were probably going to turn the possession into a touchdown as well.
That's why the season opener was so odd. In some ways, the Cards' red-zone issues were rightfully lost in Arizona's 23-13 win. It was a win after all. But the Cardinals' seven red-zone trips provided just two touchdowns, a percentage the Cards hope – and need – to improve upon.
"We hurt ourselves," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "We didn't execute as
well as we should have, there was a penalty that cost us. Hopefully in the future it won't be a problem."
The statistics were skewed a bit. One "possession" came at the end of the game, when quarterback Kurt Warner took a knee four straight times when the Cards could have at the very least kicked a field goal. The drive before, the Cards' top priority was bleeding clock, so a touchdown was unlikely as the Cards ran it into the line a few times before Neil Rackers booted yet another field goal.
Yet the Cardinals know they missed chances they can't afford to miss going forward. They stalled on the San Francisco 7-yard line on their first drive, forcing a field goal. The second drive very well could have been a touchdown – coach Ken Whisenhunt said he probably would have gone for a fourth-and-1 on the San Francisco 2 – but the opportunity was lost when tackle Mike Gandy got a personal foul after the third down play, forcing yet another field goal (which Rackers missed).
The Cards looked like they were driving for a touchdown to open the third quarter before a questionable 15-yard clipping call on guard Reggie Wells short-circuited that hope.
"At times we didn't execute," guard Deuce Lutui said. "A win is a win. But I am glad we are not satisfied. Talking to the rest of the line afterward, every one said we can get better. That's promising for our future."
The Cardinals know they can do it. They were second in the NFL in scoring percentage in the red zone, getting points at a 94 percent clip in 2007 (behind the Patriots' 94.4). They were third in touchdown percentage in the red zone at 68 percent (behind New Orleans' 72 and New England's 69.4).
"We will be (good) again this year," Whisenhunt said. "There was a mental mistake here, a technique mistake there. Even with all of that we were close.
"It's not a concern unless it becomes a pattern and I don't see it becoming a pattern."
Whisenhunt showed last season he wasn't shy about going for it on fourth down – the Cards went for it 14 times in 2007, converting 12 of them – and he picked up on it again in Sunday's opener.
Technically, the Cards attempted three fourth-down plays, although the third (and lone failure) was Warner's taking of a knee late in the fourth quarter. The first came after the officials re-spotted the ball on a replay challenge, and rookie Tim Hightower plunged into the end zone for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 from the 2 (although the ball was inches from both the goal line and the first down marker).
The second was another two-yard run by Hightower on fourth-and-1 to keep alive the game-clinching 18-play drive.
And, as noted above, Whisenhunt would have gone for it on fourth down at the San Francisco 2 in the first quarter if it hadn't been for Gandy's penalty.
Whisenhunt said his fourth-down convictions grew from coaching under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh, who had a "little aggressive mentality."
"I guess you can say I've adopted that," Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals do not play a division opponent again until Nov. 2, when they visit St. Louis.
The 18-play fourth-quarter scoring drive was the franchise's longest since a 19-play, 93-yard drive against St. Louis on Sept. 29, 1996. The Cards won that game in overtime, 31-28, at Sun Devil Stadium.
Edgerrin James (100 yards rushing) became the first Card to rush for 100 yards in the season opener since Stump Mitchell had 110 yards at Cincinnati during the Cards' inaugural season in Arizona in 1988.
Boldin now has 421 career receptions, making him sixth on the franchise's all-time list behind Larry Centers (535), Roy Green (522), Frank Sanders (493), Jackie Smith (480) and Pat Tilley (469).
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 9/9/08.
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