Cardinals use big plays to beat Falcons in Wild Card win

Ken WhisenhuntThe big question entering the Arizona-Atlanta Wild Card matchup Saturday is what Cardinals team would show up at kickoff – the one that breezed to an 8-5 record, or the one that collapsed over a team game stretch in the final month of the regular season.

That question was answered quickly, as Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald on a 42-yard flee-flicker touchdown on Arizona’s second possession of the game, as the Cardinals beat the Falcons 30-24 in Glendale.

The keys to Arizona’s victory are pretty easy to spot. The Cards absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, didn’t make nearly as many mistakes as the Falcons did, and finally got a contribution from their running game.

The Cardinals essentially had two good offensive drive this entire game. They had a 14-play, 76-yard, 7:43-minute drive near the end of the third quarter that was capped off by a Tim Hightower 4-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 28-17 lead, and they had a great drive at the end of the fourth quarter to milk the clock and put the game away. That’s it. Their other touchdowns came from big plays, including 27-yard fumble recovery by Antrel Rolle, which was returned for a touchdown at the start of the second half.

Arizona spent the rest of the time shutting down Michael Turner, creating massive pressure on rookie Matt Ryan, and opening up enough running lanes for Hightower and Edgerrin James to keep the offense balanced. The Cards played with more fire for four quarters and essentially dominated the game on both sides of the ball. This was easily their best showing of the year and the win was a nice treat for a fan base that hasn’t seen a lot of winning from this franchise over the past 61 years.

It was also great to see such a standup guy in Kurt Warner play great. His lone mistake wasn’t his fault, as the receiver let the ball bounce off his shoulder pads and was intercepted. Warner made some incredible throws and kept the Cards moving all day.

Now the true test. Can this team go on the road and win in Carolina or New York? They haven’t all season and it’s highly doubtful the Panthers or Giants play as bad next week as the Falcons did Saturday. Whatever – the Cards (and their fans) can enjoy the feeling for a couple days before worrying about the next round.

To read the Falcons’ recap, click here.

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