Christian Kirk almost called off the pass he threw Sunday.
Sure, it looked perfect, connecting with Antoine Wesley for 33 yards and nearly a touchdown. But the wide receiver hyperextended his right thumb on the play before, and when the play call came in for "Fifth Ward," Kirk almost scotched the idea.
"I felt like people were sleeping on my arm ability," Kirk said with a smile. "I really couldn't feel my thumb and when they called the play, I thought, 'Oh no, I really got to say something because I can't really grip the ball.'
"But then I was like, 'I can't really miss out on this opportunity.' "
Kirk ran the play to perfection and finding Wesley down the field – a play that was a microcosm of what the Cardinals did Sunday in the 31-17 beatdown of the 49ers and how they have operated in building an NFL-best 8-1 record.
The play, named Fifth Ward by coach Kliff Kingsbury because that was what it was called when he first used it successfully while coaching at the University of Houston many years ago (the Fifth Ward is an area by the school), was designed for DeAndre Hopkins to throw it to A.J. Green.
Both players missed the game, Hopkins with a hamstring injury, Green because of Covid.
"It was for Hop, but I told him, since he's not playing, C-Kirk gets to run it," Kingsbury said.
For a team that has seen injuries coming from all angles yet continues to win, the throw provided a tangible example. Backup QB Colt McCoy took the snap, faked a quick pass to his left to backup running back Eno Benjamin, before flipping the ball behind his back to Kirk running right before Kirk lofted the perfect pass to Wesley.
"With where we are at as a team and where we are trying to go and what we are trying to accomplish," Kirk said, "everybody understands they are going to be called upon at some point during this season."
Kirk had thrown passes in high school and a couple in college, but this was his first try in the NFL. It wasn't supposed to be, but ironically, just as he "stole" Hopkins' play, another receiver took Kirk's potential opportunity back in 2018.
Before his number could be called on a pass to then-running back David Johnson in a game, Kirk hurt his foot against the Packers to end his season. Three weeks later, the Cardinals called the play – and Larry Fitzgerald lofted his one-and-only NFL touchdown pass.
"I was sitting on the couch and thinking, 'Oh my gosh, of course they called this play,' " Kirk said. "I was happy for Fitz that he was able to get it."
Fifth Ward was a play "we've been repping that for weeks and weeks and weeks," quarterback Colt McCoy said. "It wasn't just something we pulled out. It's been up, we just hadn't gotten to it. To see it make it work with Christian and 'Tweezy,' two guys that hadn't really been doing it, was awesome."
OK, maybe not awesome to everyone. At least, not when the play was called.
"Honestly, I couldn't believe we had called it in a real game," tackle D.J. Humphries said. "There is something about a lot of stuff happening in the backfield that makes offensive linemen wary. But we also knew every time we ran it in practice it was either a touchdown or a bomb."
Kirk – who said his thumb is fine -- thought it was going to be the former. Wesley caught the ball and nearly reached the end zone, going out of bounds slightly early. Kingsbury challenged the play – which, since the Cards were going to have to take a time out anyway with the play clock running down, was worth it – but the call stood and it was up to James Conner to slam it in on the next snap.
"I thought it was a touchdown and I wanted to be able to say I threw (Wesley) his first touchdown," Kirk said. "From a selfish aspect, I was more disappointed in that."
The best photos from the Cardinals' 31-17 victory over the 49ers Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season