Arizona Cardinals 2009 Season in Review

The 2009 Arizona Cardinals were a difficult team to gauge at times. Their season consisted of a list of “did” and “did not” moments. For instance, they didn’t reach the Super Bowl for a second straight year, but they did win their second straight NFC West division title.

They didn’t come close to playing championship defense during the postseason, but they did topple Green Bay in the Wild Card round with a defensive touchdown. They didn’t have any uncertainty at quarterback during the season, but they do now. Surprisingly, they didn’t have great success at home this season, but they did finish 6-2 on the road. Finally, they didn’t establish themselves as an elite team in the NFL, but they did take a step forward in that regard.

That step, however, didn’t start in the preseason, which was more like a clumsy stumble. Besides the meaningless 0-4 record, the offense looked erratic and the defense appeared disjointed. It seemed an unmotivated team would start the regular season, especially after a first-half blowout against Green Bay in the third preseason game.

Suspicions were confirmed in week one against NFC West rival San Francisco. The Cardinals failed to close the game against their only true division contender, letting a victory slip away in the process. The Cards, however, rebounded against the Jaguars in week two.

After an embarrassing loss to the current AFC Champion Colts gave the Cardinals a poor 1-2 record to start the season, a week 4 bye gave the team a chance to take a collective deep breath. After exhaling, they defeated a surprisingly capable Houston team at home and beat the Seahawks in Seattle. In Seattle, Beanie Wells officially announced his arrival in the NFL. The former Buckeye rushed for 85 yards on 16 carries with 2 rushing touchdowns, including a vicious 29 yard carry that showcased his devastating stiff-arm.

In week seven, Arizona took their first step in establishing an identity. They traveled to the East coast to play the New York Giants. Although New York’s players turned out to be less than Giants this year, the win made it clear that the Cardinals can perform on a national stage against a favored opponent; a statement that would be echoed against the Minnesota Vikings later in the season.

The momentum gained by the win in New York seemed squandered after a loss at home to Carolina in week eight. This pattern is the predominant reason why the Cardinals can’t be considered an elite NFL team, yet. Specifically, Arizona is unable to follow a strong emotional performance with a workman-like effort the next week. The Panthers exposed this and embarrassed the Cardinals at home.

Arizona, however, got it rolling against weak teams like Chicago, Seattle, and St. Louis, respectively. After Kurt Warner suffered a concussion against the Rams, the NFL got a good look at Matt Leinart against the surging Titans in week twelve. Leinart didn’t amaze, but he did play decent football. He finished the game 21/31 with 220 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. This game, however, may be analyzed more closely before the start of the 2010 season in light of Kurt Warner’s possible retirement.

In week thirteen the Cardinals showed what they look like when playing to their potential in all aspects. They handed Minnesota their second loss of the season. Kurt was classic Warner, completing 22 of 32 passes for 280 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions; Fitzgerald had 148 yards receiving and one touchdown. More importantly, however, the Cardinals defeated a 10-1 team that, at the time, was favored by many to go to the Super Bowl.

The team faltered against the 49ers with a chance to capture their second straight division title in a week 14 Monday Night Football loss. Again, the Cardinals credibility as an elite team took a deep gash as they were easily handled by a team with far less talent. The division title, however, would only have to wait one more week, as Arizona dispatched Detroit and San Francisco lost to Philadelphia. As a result, the 2009 Arizona Cardinals imbedded themselves in history as the first Cardinals team to win back to back division titles since the 1975-76 seasons.

The Cards beat the hapless Rams in a meaningless week 16 game and then faced a puzzling week 17 scenario against the Green Bay Packers. Specifically, the Cardinals knew at that time that five of six possible playoff scenarios would pit them against the Packers in the Wild Card round directly after their week 17 game.

Ken Whizenhunt played their first match up cagey, while Mike McCarthy’s Packers forged full steam ahead. The Cardinals were forced to swallow a bitter pill; a 33-7 blowout, with injuries to starters Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie, Calais Campbell, and Anquan Boldin. Cromartie and Campbell were able to play the next week, but Boldin’s knee and ankle injuries would keep him out of both postseason games.

Whizenhunt’s week 17 wisdom was questionable, but it didn’t seem to matter as the Cardinals defeated the Packers the next week in a 51-45 overtime thriller. At the conclusion of a second half that resembled a video game, Neil Rackers missed a 34-yard field goal that would have put the Cardinals ahead with seconds left. Things got worse after the Cardinals lost the over-time coin toss.

After Aaron Rogers missed a wide open Greg Jennings for what would most likely have been a game ending touchdown, there was a sack, a loose ball, and Dansby was standing in the endzone moments later. While the defense redeemed itself on the final play, the Cardinals offense did just about everything right from the first whistle.

Kurt Warner had more touchdowns (5) than incompletions (4), Steve Breaston confirmed that he is a sure number two receiver, Early Doucet’s star finally rose with a two touchdown effort, and Beanie Wells quietly rushed for 91 yards. Not to mention, that other receiver Fitzgerald also had two touchdowns. When it was all over, the Cardinals and Packers set an NFL postseason record for the most combined points scored in a single playoff game with 96. Unfortunately, the Cardinals also made history in the Divisional round.

The next week, the Cardinals defense once again gave up 45 points, this time to the current NFC Champion New Orleans Saints. The two-game combined 90 points allowed by the Cardinals defense is the most in any two consecutive playoff games in NFL history. Tim Hightower’s 70 yard touch down run on the first play of the game and rookie Greg Toler’s somewhat strong fill-in performance were just about the only bright spots for the Cardinals that day. New Orleans flat out stomped Arizona; the Saints are still marching.

Although the Cardinals season ended in a blur of gold and black for a second straight year, it’s difficult to be too upset with a 10-6 team. Arizona will once again start the season as division champions. Also, the NFC West is still the Cardinals division until the 49ers can show otherwise.

In addition, Beanie Wells has shown he can be a legitimate star in the NFL, which brings another dynamic to an already dynamic offense. Further, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet confirmed that the Cardinals depth at wide receiver will not be affected whether or not Boldin returns in 2010. Even while questions abound regarding whether Kurt Warner and a number of key free agents will return, there is great hope for the Cardinals in 2010 and beyond.

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