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Defining The Season

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  Chike Okeafor's overtime sack of Tony Romo -- and the Cards' defensive stand -- was one of the team's defining moments of 2008.

They are moments that define a season, for both good and bad. When a team plays 24 games – including preseason – there are many. As 2008 (which bled into 2009) fades into the rear view and the upcoming scouting

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Darren Urban

combine officially turns the page into the next season, I considered the moments or events that defined the Cards this past season.

I supposed I could have included Santonio Holmes' catch in the Super Bowl. The play certainly qualified here (and as a quick aside, CNN ran the play five times in a row recently while introducing a Holmes' interview. It was the first time I had truly watched the play carefully and I have to say I have no idea how that pass was completed). Instead, we'll take a pass on that one.

But there were still eight moments that helped set the course of the year. Here they are, in no particular order:

LEINART'S TOUGH DAY IN OAKLAND

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 Matt Leinart struggled against Oakland. 

Coach Ken Whisenhunt insisted the poor preseason game Matt Leinart had in Oakland – three interceptions in the first half – was not the deciding factor in making Kurt Warner the starter this season. But there is little question it gave tangible reason for Whisenhunt to make such a choice. And, as a defining moment, it's less about Leinart than getting Warner in the lineup. And that made an obvious difference in the season, with Warner generating near-MVP numbers and guiding the team to the Super Bowl.

SHREDDING MIAMI THROUGH THE AIR The Cards won their opener in San Francisco, but

 

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Anquan Boldin dominated the Dolphins.

Warner clearly wasn't thrilled with a run-first mentality. The next week, the Cards bombed the Dolphins with both Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, setting up what could be considered the most dangerous passing game in the NFL and all but defining who the Cards were as an offense. Edgerrin James didn't come out of it unscathed, but Warner-to-Q-and-Fitz was what the Cards were about in 2008.

THE DEFENSIVE STAND AGAINST DALLAS

Obviously, the Cards' defense shouldn't have let the Cowboys even be in a position to send the game to overtime. But they let Marion Barber take that short pass and go 70 yards for a touchdown. But then the Cowboys got the ball first in OT, Chike Okeafor sacked Tony Romo (and broke his thumb) on first down to spark a three-and-out. Sean Morey's blocked punt won the game, but it was the defensive stand – when the Cards needed it – that foretold what the "D" could do.

THE BIGGEST SACK? If there was one point in the playoffs where it became apparent the Cards may

 

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  Antonio Smith had a huge sack against Carolina.

have a chance to reach Tampa, it was in Carolina. The Panthers easily drove through the Cards for a 7-0 lead, and the Cards answered with a TD of their own. On the next possession, not only did the Panthers not answer, but Arizona defensive end Antonio Smith busted through for a sack and forced fumble that he recovered. The Cards scored another touchdown immediately and the Cards just kept forcing turnovers. Belief suddenly was in ample supply.

THE QWEST FOR THE DIVISION

 

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  DRC had a big game in the Cards' win in Seattle this season.

The Seahawks were down in 2008 and the Cards were already rolling to an NFC West crown. Still, when the Cardinals had to go to Seattle there were many who weren't sure the Cards could slay those demons. Usually, Qwest Field meant bad things for the visitors. But the Cards played tough, and thanks to rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's breakout game, the Cards got the win – and all but wrapped up their first division title since 1975.

THE DRIVE, BIRD STYLE Sure, the Cards had wasted a huge lead against the Eagles in the NFC

 

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  Tim Hightower scores the winning TD against the Eagles.

Championship. Sure, the offense had done little. But then Warner geared up the troops for that stunning 14-play, 72-yard drive that lead to the winning points on Tim Hightower's screen pass for a score. Overcoming adversity had become a trademark for the Cards in 2008. Given the way the Super Bowl ended, that Philly drive may have been the Cards' greatest moment of the year.

JUST SNOW DISAPPOINTING

 

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  It was bad at the time, but the New England loss helped.

Forgetting about the debacle in New England would be preferred. But that terrible showing – losing 47-7 and falling behind 47-0 – might have finally woke up the Cards before the playoffs. It was that game that made Whisenhunt get a little tougher at practice, making players wear pads again, at least for part of the daily workouts. And it was that game that drove the national media to question whether the Cards deserved to be in the playoffs or whether they were indeed the "worst playoff team of all-time" – questions that ultimately provided the players with key postseason motivation.

A GLIMPSE OF WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN Speaking of adversity, the Cards saw much of it in the Super Bowl. But when

 

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  Larry Fitzgerald celebrates the (too brief) Super Bowl lead.

Warner calmly hit Fitzgerald for that stunning 64-yard touchdown pass with less than three minutes left, it became possible, maybe even probable – the Cardinals were going to shock the world.

It didn't happen, of course, thanks to Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger. But it didn't take away from the Fitz catch being another defining moment in the season – it's just that it could have been the defining moment.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 2/14/09.

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