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Warner Provides Answers, Questions

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Midway through the season, Kurt Warner has played himself into the NFL MVP race.

It just seems so long ago, when the Cardinals' quarterback job was Matt Leinart's to lose, and then the position was in flux, and then Leinart bombed out in the Oakland preseason game.

So much drama leading to Kurt Warner's ascension.

So long ago.

Midway through the season, Warner has been spectacular. Coach Ken

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Whisenhunt won't say it in quite those terms – every success is greeted in measured compliments for both individuals and the team; can't lose focus, after all – but can Warner's season be described any other way?

Warner is on pace to shatter all the team's season passing records, from attempts to completions to completion percentage to touchdown passes to yards to passer rating. He rightfully has climbed into the discussion for league MVP – SI.com's Peter King actually had Warner at the top of his list Tuesday and Whisenhunt said his QB should be in the mix.

Warner seemingly a lock for one of the three NFC Pro Bowl QB spots (Drew Brees is the other, right now).

To earn MVP might be tough. I think the Cardinals not only have to win at least 10 games, but Warner can't have clunker performances in high-profile games against the Giants, Eagles and Patriots, when people will be paying close attention.

But Warner could pull that off.

Warner's season is fantastic and vexing at the same time. He will be a free agent after the season; if the Cardinals were to sign him to a new two-year contract, for example (assuming Warner doesn't really want to retire, which I don't believe down deep he wants to do), it will cost a bundle. Will it be $15 million total? $20 million? More?

The Cards almost have to bring him back with how well Warner has played. But the Cards aren't without leverage themselves; Warner has made it clear he doesn't want to uproot his family to play elsewhere. Besides, this team and this coaching staff are by far the best fit for Warner. He wouldn't have the same weapons in say, Minnesota or San Francisco. And money isn't Warner's ultimate goal at this point anyway.

Let's say the Cards can figure out a new contract. Then what to do with backup Matt Leinart? Whisenhunt said the reason Leinart wasn't brought in to the end of Sunday's pasting of the Rams was because the Cards were in the middle of a grind-the-clock drive, which started with 12:13 left (probably too early to pull Warner) and ended with a field goal almost nine minutes later.

By the time the Cards got the ball again, slightly more than two minutes were left, and really, what's the point of sticking Leinart in when all he will do is hand off and kneel?

That's a short-term problem for Leinart anyway; dealing with Leinart's situation if Warner stays is the long-term part of the equation.

That's why the salaries are so hefty for men like Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves. Even in a season in which the team has undergone a renaissance, there are always issues with which to deal.

For now, though, those issues will stay in the background.

In the meantime, Warner will try to knock down some records, stay in the MVP talk, and take the Cardinals somewhere they haven't been in a while, whether it be a 5-3 record (1984), a division title (1975) or a home playoff game (1947) -- speaking of things that seem so long ago.

HIGHSMITH DONE

Rookie linebacker Ali Highsmith's season ended Tuesday when the team put him on injured reserve, after Highsmith tore the ACL in his right knee against the Rams. Highsmith had been playing well on special teams. Highsmith should be able to return by training camp.

In order to cushion the loss, the Cards signed linebacker Pago Togafau from the New Orleans practice squad.

Togafau played special teams for the Eagles in seven games last season, and had impressed Cardinals' coaches in 2007 after Arizona signed him as an undrafted rookie. Togafau was cut at the end of the 2007 preseason by the Cards.

SOME NUMBERS

The Cardinals have won four of its past nine games by 20 points or more. From 1986 to 2006, the Cardinals had just six wins of at least 20 points.

The 177 rushing yards the Cards posted against the Rams were the most since for the team since they ran for 211 yards against the Saints Oct. 3, 2004, when Emmitt Smith had 127 yards rushing and Troy Hambrick added 79.

After making 20 touchdown receptions in his first 56 career games, Anquan Boldin now has 17 TD catches in his last 18 games.

A win against San Francisco on "Monday Night Football" would be the Cards' seventh straight home victory. The last time the Cards won seven straight home games was in 1925, when the streak reached nine.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 11/4/08.

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