Kurt Warner threw for 381 yards Sunday and Edgerrin James ran for just 17, underscoring the identity of the Cards seven games into 2008.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Edgerrin James smiled.
The Cardinals had just lost, 27-23, to Carolina Sunday, despite piling up yards – 425, or 75 more than the Panthers. And almost all the yards came through the air, with quarterback Kurt Warner again posting MVP-type numbers and Anquan Boldin successfully returning from surgery with nine catches and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals did it all almost to the exclusion of the running game – seven carries for James, six for rookie Tim Hightower, plus an end-around for Boldin – and that's what caused Edge's grin.
"That's what we do," James said. "That's what we work on in practice and that's
what we do. We are a passing team. We are going to throw it."
It's only part of the identity the Cardinals have forged in 2008.
The game in Carolina could have been a benchmark had the Cards won. A crucial road win against a good opponent remains absent from the résumé.
But more on that in a bit.
On a more nuts-and-bolts level, the Cardinals – with Warner at the helm and Larry Fitzgerald and Boldin leading a good receiving corps – are exactly what Edge said: A passing team.
Any idea that the disparity is troublesome was shot down bluntly by coach Ken Whisenhunt, who noted the Cards had collected all those yards and points against a top-five defense and "I'll take that any week."
"Whether we have to throw it, whether we have to run it, whatever we have to do, if we are operating the way we did today, we will win football games," Whisenhunt said. "That's what this is all about."
The loss came not because of the passing but because the defense went from dominating to disappointing while missing tackles. The loss was because of two bad turnovers, one inside the Cards' own 20, the other inside the Panthers' 20.
One turnover did come on an interception. But the other was a James fumble. The fumble came midway through the third quarter, and it was the last time Edge touched the ball.
That is another reason the Cards want to pass so much – the running game doesn't do enough.
"I think we had the plan we could spread it out and do some things but I don't think you ever expect to throw that much," Warner said. "I think you'd like to run, but we weren't getting a whole lot done on the run and we were moving it through the air. We just kind of gravitated to it because we were having so much success."
Two runs from the Carolina 4 in the first quarter failed to crack the end zone. Hightower gained just three yards on his six carries; James had 17 yards total. It seems obvious as time goes on that James' time in Arizona has an expiration date sooner rather than later, especially with a $5 million salary in 2009.
Hightower may be the heir apparent, maybe not. Whisenhunt and offensive coordinator Todd Haley are clearly the types that will want to use multiple backs, however, so finding another workhorse isn't necessary.
Hightower did score a rushing touchdown Sunday, working hard to scramble around in the backfield before finally finding a hole.
But for now, the Cards will mostly throw.
Bringing Boldin back made an impact, and Whisenhunt praised the pass protection – especially given that Warner dropped back to throw 51 times.
That's part of the Cards' identity. Another part is still being shaped.
Whisenhunt was clearly irritated the Cardinals could not close out the big road win, but he also said his team was mentally tougher than the one that got rocked in New York.
"We're a different football team than we were a few weeks ago," Whisenhunt said.
Eventually, Sunday's loss doesn't have to sting. At 4-3, the Cards remain two games ahead in the NFC West with three division games – at St. Louis, home on Monday night against San Francisco, at Seattle – waiting.
If the Cardinals are the team they think they are, they could easily win all three. If they sit 7-3 and 4-0 in the division, they won't be caught.
But can the Cards win those games? Can they take two crucial intra-division road games against the suddenly spunky Rams and long-time nemesis Seahawks?
The Cards are a passing team for sure. They want to be known as a winning one as well.
"We are a good team and I think everybody knows that," Boldin said after the Carolina loss. "But for us to go from a good team to a great team, we have to win these games."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 10/26/08.
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