Eli Manning (left) and Kurt Warner talk before the Cardinals and Giants played last season.
Helped in part because Kurt Warner and the Cardinals just faced the Giants last season, the storyline of Warner and his benching during his lone season playing for New York was mostly pushed to the side this week – like Warner wanted it.
"We're not really thinking about the past," Warner said, "whether it's my experiences playing there with the Giants or anything we have done out there against opposing teams."
Still, Warner, the Giants and current quarterback Eli Manning – who has started every game for New York since coach Tom Coughlin sat Warner for a rookie Manning nine games into the 2004 season – will always be linked. Given that both quarterbacks will be major keys to the outcome of Sunday night's game in New York, it is a subject that is difficult to avoid.
Coughlin called Warner a "great gentlemen" who dealt with the benching for Manning with class.
"He wasn't happy about it, but he was not going to lower himself to lose the respect of all of us because of it," Coughlin said. "He did a great job working with Eli the rest of the season. He was hurting inside, but he did a tremendous job showing us (his) character."
Their season together has given Warner perspective on Manning, who seems to have blossomed in this, his sixth season. Coughlin said Manning "definitely has" been more consistent this season, which is shown through his 102.2 passer rating – well above his career mark of 77.9 – 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
He also played well against the Cardinals last season, with three touchdown passes in a 37-29 win.
"I continually am impressed with Eli and the way he has grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the league," Warner said. "There was so much on his shoulders with everything that went down in the draft and being a first-year guy and having to be the savior and being Peyton's brother. To handle all that, in that city, with those expectations … I am thoroughly impressed."
Warner has also been solid this season, with a 92.1 passing rating, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. After Saints quarterback Drew Brees lit up the Giants last week for four TD passes, there is an assumption Warner too will be able to attack New York's secondary.
"When I saw Kurt here, I knew he could still play," Manning said. "He's as tough as anybody in the NFL. He is very confident. I'm happy for him and it will be a tough challenge Sunday with him at quarterback."
BOLDIN QUESTIONABLE, DOUCET POSSIBLE
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was able to return to practice Friday on a limited basis, and is officially listed as questionable for Sunday.
"I am surprised to be honest with you," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I didn't think he'd move around as well as he did."
Boldin only briefly talked about the injury as he never slowed walking to the locker room, saying "every day it's getting better." Whisenhunt acknowledged, with Boldin's issues, there was a chance Early Doucet will be active for the first time this season in New York.
"You can definitely see the difference in where Early was last year and where he is now," Whisenhunt said. "You can see the confidence, the crispness in his routes. There is an opportunity potentially for him to play. As a staff, we are more comfortable for him to be out there. … He's a hard worker and he is tough and those are two big things in his favor."
Doucet, who was out for a most of the preseason and the regular-season opener because of shoulder and rib injuries, is just anxious to have a chance to play.
"I am just looking forward to getting on the field," Doucet said. "Even if I had to go out on defense, as long as I can get on the field, that's all I'm looking at."
Tight end Stephen Spach (ankle) is out for Sunday's game. The only other player not listed as probable is running back Beanie Wells, who was limited all week with a sore hip. Wells is expected to play.
A GIANT TASK ON KICKOFFS
The Cardinals were hurt during last season's loss to the Giants on special teams – specifically, covering the Giants' return game. Dominik Hixon – who is averaging 32.9 yards a kick return this season – broke off an 83-yard return and a 68-yard return last season. The 83-yard return came after the Cards had buried him on an initial return but were called for offsides. The two returns led to 10 points.
"You've got to look at history," said Matt Ware, who struggled with special teams penalties in that game. "You can't just say last year didn't happen. At the same time, we know what we did."
This season, with the addition of rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling and the weekly inclusion of Michael Adams on the outside, the Cards' coverage unit – led by Pro Bowler Sean Morey – has been good.
"I am pleased with our units, especially coverage-wise," Whisenhunt said. "I really think there is a confidence level in our group. We can do different things. It was evident in the Seattle game."
In that game, the Cardinals decided to activate rookie Greg Toler and use his speed on the outside of the kick coverage unit, a big reason Toler was able to jump on the "mortar" kickoff.
Ware thinks this year's coverage unit can be better than last year but "it all depends."
"If one guy gets out of his gap, then you are terrible," Ware said. "But if everyone stays in their gap and everyone attacks the ball, you're great."
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