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Needing Warner Healthy

While Leinart learns, injury shows how much Cards lean on veteran QB

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Coach Ken Whisenhunt and sidelined quarterback Kurt Warner discuss strategy during the second half of Sunday's 21-13 win over St. Louis.
 
 
ST. LOUIS – Kurt Warner said he was OK.

"You want to help your team win, but you also don't want to do anything dumb that could jeopardize you for the rest of the season," the Cardinals' quarterback said, after he sat out the second half of Sunday's 21-13 win over the Rams with concussion-like symptoms.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said there was no reason to risk Warner's health.

"We erred to the side of caution," Whisenhunt said.

And with those words, there was likely a sigh of relief from Cardinal nation.

Warner's head injury, and the subsequent half of play from backup Matt Leinart, served as a living reminder of what happens when a good team loses its starting quarterback. The issue isn't unique to the Cardinals, who still may be in better shape than most if a change is necessary. I mean, would you rather have Leinart or Jim Sorgi? Leinart or Mark Brunell?

Leinart, for all the games on his résumé, remains an unknown quantity. Warner is anything but.
 
There were cries of "Why?" when Leinart went into the game in Chicago and threw an interception. But the Cards need to see him react in game situations, because the practice field just isn't enough. They need to know that if Warner is ever seriously hurt, Leinart can step in. More importantly, they need to know when Warner finally retires, Leinart can step in.

Even Leinart said after Sunday's game it felt good to be in a game that was close, where crunch time actually mattered.

"Honestly, I haven't played in a significant game in 2½ years," Leinart said.

His numbers weren't bad (10-for-14 for 74 yards). Whisenhunt said if tight end Anthony Becht hadn't lost a fumble after a second-down catch and had the Cards executed a third-and-1 pass – running back Beanie Wells apparently didn't look back quickly enough for the ball – he had no doubt Leinart would have piloted the Cards to points.

Leinart also had the clutch third-down pass to Early Doucet that gained a first down late in the game.

Yet the reality was the Cardinals were churning through the Rams for 21 points while Warner was playing and were held to 117 second-half yards when he wasn't.

"I don't want to put everything on Kurt or Matt or the quarterback," running back Tim Hightower said. "It's the team. The first half, guys were stepping up to make plays. The second half, we have to find a way to continue to make plays."

Reality came from Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who said his decision to kick a field goal down 21-3 late in the third quarter was in part because the Cardinals didn't have Warner – and by extension, were troubled moving the ball. 

Then there is Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle, who noted while the Cards were "comfortable" with Leinart, "when your starting quarterback goes out, it's more of a point of emphasis for a defense to go out and get a three-and-out."

All this may have less to do with Leinart and more about the incredibly high standard Warner has brought to the game.

No one could have predicted Warner would have turned into some kind of iron man. Sunday's game was Warner's 41st straight start including the postseason. The talk about his fragility has passed.

There was irony that he would get hurt in St. Louis, where the media there remembered the maladies that eventually cost Warner his job with the Rams. When one question in the press conference began with the idea concussions earlier in Warner's career could make a difference, Warner quickly responded with a less-than-thrilled "Easy now. Easy." Warner emphasized he had only had a couple of "minor" concussions and nothing since 2003.
 
"We're not in a state of panic," Warner said. "We didn't take any extra chances (Sunday). We didn't take any extra hits."

The decision to sit during the game came "with the idea that I will be 100 percent fine and play next week," Warner said.

The Cardinals need him, of course. The offense has been humming of late with Warner at the controls. Besides, the Cards are entering arguably their most difficult two-game stretch left on the schedule – a trip to suddenly hot Tennessee and then the steamrolling Vikings at home.

Any hope to still secure a first-round playoff bye likely means winning out. Winning out, a difficult feat at best, means Warner needs to be at the helm. He is, after all, the starter.

"I think I'm going to be just fine," Warner said.

If he is, so too will the Cards.

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