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Clocking In On The Job

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Offensive coordinator Todd Haley talks to his offense just before the Cardinals held the ball for the final four-plus minutes of their playoff victory.

The scene was caught by NBC cameras and broadcast to the world: Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley screaming encouragement to his players to just "do your jobs" and not let the Atlanta Falcons have a chance at a comeback.

Four minutes, 10 seconds remained in the Wild Card playoff game and the Falcons had just scored to cut the lead to six points.

It was a lot of time to burn off the clock for an offense that hadn't always been able to come through in such a situation.

"Early in the year, we had had a similar four-minute situation and it's the same

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thing with everybody, you run it, you run it, you run it," Haley said. "If you don't pop one of the runs, you punt. I kind of made the decision back then, in my mind, I wasn't going to fall into it again."

With perfect balance – three runs, three passes – the Cardinals gained three first downs and 57 yards taking it to the two-minute warning. Without any Atlanta timeouts left, the Falcons could only watch the last seconds tick away.

And the Cardinals' offense got a significant confidence boost as they headed into the Divisional round of the playoffs at Carolina.

"Coach Haley brought us together and said that, but then to do it, and the way we did it – we ran the ball a little, we passed, and people made plays, everybody," said wide receiver Steve Breaston, who hauled in a key 25-yard reception on the drive. "Big-time players, role players, everyone contributed. It was a team effort. That's what you need in the playoffs. When you play as a team, good things happen."

Haley started fast, calling a pass play in which Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald for a 15-yard gain. Edgerrin James was stopped on a run for no yards, but then Warner found Breaston. Tim Hightower then gained two yards on a run.

The ball was moving.

"If everyone focuses on doing their job … somebody will be open and holes are going to be there," tackle Levi Brown said. "It

can* be as simple as just doing your job."

Haley admitted later he second-guessed himself about the next play, the end-around to Breaston after a couple of fake handoffs. Breaston was dropped for an eight-yard loss, setting up a difficult third-and-16.

Breaston shrugged the loss off – "Hey, the defense is going to get one" – and said everyone remained calm in the huddle. The Cards then ran a specific play-action pass to try and get little-used tight end Stephen Spach open down the seam.

It worked, and Spach hauled in a 23-yard catch to all but end the game and turn Haley's speech into fact.

"When Stephen caught the ball for the first down and it went to the two-minute warning with them having no timeouts," coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "it was probably one of the most rewarding moments for me in football.

"When we won the Super Bowl and we knew we were going to win right there at the end, there is no feeling quite like that. But to have a home playoff game and to know you are going to win it, in front of the home crowd, that was special."

Warner finished the game with three kneel-downs after Spach's catch.

Haley said he told the offense Friday night before the game the unit needed to put the game on their shoulders. The final clock-bleeding drive "wasn't without fireworks, but it was a terrific feeling."

The Cardinals finished 16th in the NFL in time of possession this season, at 30 minutes, 9 seconds (The Giants were tops at 32:56). Even with their passing game, they managed to control the ball much of the season, until late when they played their poor games.

After the Falcons held the ball for more than 21 of the first-half's 30 minutes, the final Cardinals' drive actually gave Arizona a 30:02-29:58 edge for the game.

The drive worked on many other levels. It showed the Cards' new-found balance as well as the team's resilience after watching the Falcons score their final touchdown. And it showed a confidence the Cards will need to keep winning in the playoffs.

"This team, it faces adversity," Breaston said, "but I think we respond well when that happens."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 1/5/09.

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