Larry Fitzgerald can't come down with a high pass against the Packers Sunday.
Going forward, it could be referred to as "The Plan."
That's the ideal Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt sketched out for his team had the Vikings won their game early Sunday, which is what happened. With Minnesota taking the No. 2 seed out of the equation, the Cardinals were going to pull back, play some key players less and show little from the playbook.
Admittedly, The Plan had its hiccups, and not just because of the seemingly meaningless 33-7 final score in a loss to the Packers – the same team that will return to Glendale next weekend for a Wild Card playoff game. Key starters Anquan Boldin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell all suffered injuries that left their availability in question. And in theory, the Packers might have gained some momentum for the second time around.
But the Cardinals also took some game-planning – the plays that might have been needed and were worked on last week – and put it in their back pocket for this week.
The Cards pulled back. The Packers didn't.
As for which was the right choice, "I guess, ultimately, we'll know next week," Whisenhunt said Monday.
A day removed from the game seemed to bring increased optimism on the injured players, although Whisenhunt wasn't willing to actually say he was optimistic. Boldin was to undergo an MRI on his bad left ankle (and also his left knee as a precaution) although the wide receiver didn't seem overly concerned after the game.
Rodgers-Cromartie had good range of motion on his left knee, which was bruised and cut after being kicked by the cleats of tight end Jermichael Finley. Considering the Pro Bowl cornerback looked like he might have suffered a much more serious injury immediately after the play happened, his availability suddenly seems likely.
Defensive end Calais Campbell fractured his left thumb and surgery is a real possibility. Whisenhunt noted, however, that both DRC and guard Reggie Wells have played with casts on broken digits this season and done so effectively. If Campbell does play with a cast, "it will help him with his club move, that's for sure," Whisenhunt quipped.
The Cards sat some players, taking out many key defensive starters after the first series, while the Packers ran their starters out deep into the third quarter.
"They obviously took a different approach," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "They'll have a different plan for us (this week). That's the chess match part of it."
Other Cardinals did stay in.
In Boldin's case, he remained in the game past his eclipsing of the 1,000-yard receiving mark because Whisenhunt wanted backup quarterback Matt Leinart to work with the starting offense, in case something happened to starting quarterback Kurt Warner.
Larry Fitzgerald stayed in too, but for other reasons. Fitzgerald came into the game needing six catches for 100 on the season and a touchdown reception to give him a career-high. He played the whole game to reach those numbers, getting the touchdown late but falling three receptions shy of the century mark.
"You don't worry about (getting hurt) and you just play football," Fitzgerald said. "I've been playing tackle football since I was seven years old and God has kept me relatively healthy."
Whisenhunt said he understood Fitzgerald's quest for some personal milestones.
"We talked with Larry during the game about that and Larry wanted to continue to play," Whisenhunt said. "We certainly respect that. It's a risk. It's something you would feel sick about had he gotten injured … (but) we're talking about something that's important to a player as far as his legacy in the league."
It wasn't just about players, though. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers noted the Cards never bothered blitzing, and multiple Cardinals referred to their team's "basic" or "vanilla" strategy.
As the score skewed lopsided, the Cardinals had to remember why they were doing what they were doing, knowing a Packers' rematch loomed.
"It's hard to sit there for the game and do that," Whisenhunt said. "There are always things you would like to pull out and use, but then again you certainly want to save them."
Whisenhunt insisted there were no excuses to make about the blowout loss, but he continued to give off an air of confidence when it came to finally playing the Packers in a game that mattered.
"We stuck with our plan," Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals know their second-round playoff schedule should they advance. If the Cowboys beat the Eagles, the Cardinals will play in New Orleans on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 2:30 p.m. Arizona time. If the Eagles beat the Cowboys, the Cards will play in Minnesota Sunday, Jan. 17, at 11 a.m. Arizona time. …
Whisenhunt again said Leinart had a bad game, but refused to be much more critical. "You have to be careful about judging him on a situation like (Sunday) when he doesn't have the full game plan and we're trying to do some things a little bit differently," Whisenhunt said.
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