The Cardinals ended their NFL season Sunday with another victory of the squeaker variety. They beat Seattle, 24-21, in overtime to finish 8-8 for the season after starting 1-6. What to make of it? In winning seven of their last nine games, did the Cardinals really improve that much? Or was the winning pure dumb luck?
For anyone who followed the Diamondbacks, Arizona’s voodoo baseball team of last summer, the Cardinals’ season was highly reminiscent. The Dbacks started slow and finished fast, rallying in the late innings for “miraculous” victories provided by the most unlikely players imaginable. Ditto the Cardinals.
The Cardinals “miracle” season pivoted on numerous fourth-quarter rallies engineered by backup quarterback John Skelton. The second-year player out of little Fordham University seemed lost for most of the game. In the end the Cardinals won all eight of their games by 7 points or less, three of them in overtime. How often can that happen? Who can forget Dallas’s “winning” field goal being called back because its own coach called timeout just before the kick?
Perhaps there was no greater stroke of luck for the Cardinals than the injuries to the starting quarterback Kevin Kolb. Double-K was supposedly coach Ken Whisenhunt’s key to the franchise’s future, but made only nine starts and playing very little in one of them due to a concussion. That injury essentially kept him out off the field for the final four games of the season.
In Kolb’s absence, Skelton piloted the team to a 6-2 record. Kolb was only 2-6. For Whisenhunt to take credit for Skelton and the turn-around is ludicrous. The Whiz misjudged Kolb’s capabilities, failed to change the offense to suit his new quarterback’s talents and rarely, even with Skelton, had his team ready to play at the start of games. To the contrary, it seemed Skelton’s late-game heroics was more due to the opposition’s conservative approach on both offense and defense.
For the Cardinal faithful who derided the 2010 quarterback Derek Anderson, 2011 should have stretched some eyeballs. Skelton’s statistics were only a hair better than Anderson’s. His QB rating of 68.9 was only slightly better than the bedeviled Anderson’s 65.9. And Skelton was only a bit more accurate with his passes, 54.9 percent to 51.7.
The real difference between Anderson and Skelton was this. Skelton had the benefit of what was truly the most improved part of the Cardinals game, the defense. That 3-4 Steelers defense established by a new coordinator, Ray Horton, kept the Cardinals in almost every game. Far different than the year before.
And who will start at quarterback next year? The bet here is on Kolb. The organization has layed out good money and its reputation on Double-K. You would hope Whisenhunt would rise to the occasion, put his ego on the shelf and allow the once lightly-regarded Skelton to compete for the job in 2012.
The most valuable player has to be rookie punt returner Patrick Peterson. He virtually won two or three games on his own, while tying an NFL record for touchdowns. He had four for the season and came with an eyelash Sunday of going all the way for No. 5.
For next season, the Cardinals will have to play much better to equal the 8-8 season. One can not imagine the team getting so many breaks two years in a row. One season of voodoo football is just about the limit.