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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Game Notes | Wild Card Weekend: Falcons @ Cardinals

OK, I'm only covering one game today, so I can return to the full version of game notes.

I have Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Neil Rackers going in our Full Contact Dynasty playoff league, so I need a Cardinals win . . . and preferably a couple of Warner-to-Fitz scores.

Not a good sign on the opening kickoff. The ball bounced around and got past J.J. Arrington, who managed to bring it back to the 11-yard line. First pass over Fitz's head on the sidelines. Second pass short to Steve Breaston, Warner hit in the back by a blitzing Keith Brooking as he released. Underneath to Ben Patrick, and the Cardinals are stopped short. Wonder if they ever plan on running the ball?

Harry Douglas brings all the way back to midfield on the punt return. Playaction fake and Ryan grabs three yards on the scramble. Good coverage by the Arizona corners. Burner stopped for a short gain, nice penetration and tackle by Karlos Dansby. Falcons need six, and Ryan is picked by Ralph Brown. It's worth noting that Ryan closed out the season on a mini-slump with five picks in his last four games.

The rejuvenated Edgerrin James gets a couple of carries and picks up the first down. I don't know if it's just because I'm so used to seeing Hightower dance, but Edge looks much quicker the past couple of weeks than he did for the past two years. He has some fresh legs. Effective running sets up the flea flicker, and Warner bombs it to Fitzgerald who goes up in double coverage and makes a fantastic touchdown grab. It bears repeating: nobody goes up and get the ball in traffic like Larry Fitzgerald. Great leaping ability, fantastic use of his body, and unparalleled hands.

Burner stopped cold again. Ryan finds Roddy White at the sticks for a first-down. Ryan backpedals and throws it away, and I don't see how that's not intentional grounding. Mike Smith wants an offsides call on Arizona, and he may be right. Dansby stones Burner once again, and he's had nowhere to run so far. Third and 13, and Ryan is taken down from behind by Chike Okeafor for the sack. Ryan looks a little shaky early on.

Edge picks up another five yards, and then Warner goes to Fitz again in the seam for a 30-yard gain. James not going down easy, and he's inside the Falcons 35-yard line. Arrington loses a couple of yards, and then Warner throws behind Boldin on third down. Cardinals are in borderline Rackers field goal range, but they'll punt and play field position football while they've got the Falcons O on the run.

Atlanta starts at their own 7-yard line, Turner manages about three yards on the first carry. Ryan playaction to Jenkins, but Rod Hood came over and knocked it away. Nice play. Ryan from the shotgun, and a Bertrand Berry takes him down for the sack. Rookie Sam Baker got off the ball way too slowly on that one. Breaston foolishly picks up the grounder in front of a defender, and he was lucky not to fumble.

Fitz gets railroaded by Foxworth, who cut off his route, but no call. Falcons blitz and get to Warner, but he gets rid of it before the sack. Warner pressured again and almost throws a pick. Arizona will punt again, and Douglas is brought down inside his own 10-yard line again. Cardinals are dominating this game, but they're going to need more than a 7-point lead.

Turner gets two or three again on his first carry, and the Falcons are out to the 10-yard line. Ryan pressured and throws off his back foot, but he finds Roddy White for another first down. Hood stops Turner from a big gain. Norwood gets a nice gainer for the first, and his style may be a better fit against a hard-charging Cardinals front-7.

Turner picks up 13 yards, and the Falcons are starting to find running room. Ryan to Jenkins for another 13-yard gain. Collinsworth points out that safety Adrian Wilson is just living at the line of scrimmage. Holy crap! Turner just caught a pass. Another Turner first down, and then Rod Hood drills Harry Douglas. Quick strike to Roddy for 10 yards, and the Falcons are driving. Wait, Marcus Pollard is still playing, and he just fumbled. Luckily for that old fart, Jerious Norwood jumped on the loose ball. Gerald Hayes stops Burner in the backfield for a loss, and it's third and long near the 20-yard line. Hood falls down, and Ryan finds Jenkins who can't quite pick up the first. It's fourth and very short, so we'll have either a challenge or a debate over whether to go for the first or kick a field goal. Elam comes on and nails a 30-yarder and the Falcons are up off the mat. Let's see if the Cardinals can answer with a long drive of their own.

That was just a stupid play. Warner half-heartedly went back to fake a handoff and then do a quick strike to Fitz, but it was knocked down at the line and never had a chance. Warner fakes another one to Edge and hits Boldin for a short gain. I have an idea: instead of faking to Edge, hand it to him and watch him continue to succeed. Under pressure, Warner hits Boldin who makes a defender miss (poor tackling) and takes it all the way down the sideline for a 71-yard touchdown. Good downfield block by Fitz to take out the only defender that would have had a chance.

Ryan finds Roddy White wide open down the field, but Roddy just drops it. That would have been a huge gainer. Ryan under pressure delivers a 21-yarder to Jenkins under pressure, and the Falcons wide receivers are starting to create some separation. NBC just showed an interesting graphic: Ryan has a 98 passer rating to his left and a 78 passer rating to his right. That's bizarre. Roddy White with another first down, and the Falcons are in the red zone again. Ryan has hit some big third down conversions the past two drives. Turner waltzes into the end zone for the 7-yard score, and the Cardinals have to be worried about their defense giving up back to back lengthy drives. The Falcons are having no problems moving the ball in the second quarter, and it's a 14-10 game.

Cardinals come out neglecting the running game once again, and guess what -- a tipped ball interception. Bad play by Jerheme Urban, but that's on the play calling. It's mind-blowing that they've abandoned the run after early success, and the Falcons are now dominating time of possession. The Arizona braintrust is coaching a losing game right now. Collinsworth just said it: "Despite their early struggles, Atlanta has stayed with their running game. And despite their early success, Arizona has abandoned theirs." Ryan has all day to throw, but he overthrows a wide open Roddy White in the end zone. "Too safe," says Collinsworth. Second and five from the 8-yard line. Roddy catches a first down, and the Cardinals better be ready for a heavy does of Turner inside the 3-yard line. Justin Peele wide open on the play fake, and the Falcons take a 17-14 lead with less than 20 seconds left in the half. Nice job, Cardinals coaches. Bunch of idiots. How do you lose control of a game that you're just flat-out dominating?

Falcons coach Mike Smith says the turning point in the game was the Falcons going to a hurry-up offense and Matt Ryan getting into rhythm. He emphasized that he will not abandon the running game no matter what the per carry average is. Imagine that. Sideline reporter Tiki Barber says Anquan Boldin has a strain in him hamstring and is questionable to return in the second half.

Darnell Dockett shoots the gap, knocks the ball into Antrell Rolle's hands, and Rolle takes it in for the touchdown, Cardinals 21-17.

A Cardinals timeout just prior to the snap prevents a possible huge run by Burner, who is stopped for a loss by Dansby on the next run. Ryan finds Roddy for a first-down, but it's negated by a Harvey Dahl holding penalty. Third and 20 from their own 10-yard line. Delay of game, and it's going to be 3rd & 25 now. Shaky opening drive, and Falcons are lucky they didn't get a safety on Sam Baker's obvious hold of Bertrand Berry in the end zone. Big no-call there. Breaston drilled before he has a chance to catch the punt, and that's going to be a penalty.

Cardinals take a deep breath and get back to their running game. Edge picks up five on his first carry of the half. Warner just barely overthrows Fitz on the sidelines, 3rd & 5. Fitz interfered with by Chris Houston, and it's another no-call. Cardinals are getting jobbed on their own home field. Rackers rushes with players trying to get off the field and hooks a 51-yarder wide left. Between the refs and the Cardinals coaches, the players aren't getting much of a chance here.

Burner stuffed, then a quick pass to Roddy for four yards. Ryan has a NFL rookie record 20 completions, and there's still 10 minutes left in the third. Third down and five, and Roddy can't hold on for the first. Falcons will punt.

Edge stopped for a 2-yard gain, but he's still sitting on 5.0 yards per carry. He gets another six yards, and it's going to be third and short. Warner finds tight end Scott Spaecht for the first on a bootleg throw. Warner uses a playaction after the bootleg, and both plays were made possible by the run game. Third and five and Warner scrambles for the first down. Edge breaks a few tackles and picks up 10 yards on a nice run. Hightower comes on for three yards, and then Warner hits Urban for a 5-yard gain. Third and short again. Warner hits Edge on the run for the first down. Hightower hard-charging for a 5-yard gain to the outside. Delayed draw to Hightower for a 2-yard gain, and it's going to be third and short again at the 18-yard line. Warner buys time, steps up and nails Breaston in the numbers for the first down. Warner took a big hit, piledrived by Grady Jackson. Hightower highsteps to the outside for a touchdown, and it's 28-17 Cardinals. Great drive by Warner and the Cardinals.

Ryan opens up and throws a bomb down the sidelines, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie goes up and gets the ball its peak for the interception. Impressive athletic play by DRC. Edge gets back to work with another five yard gain. Edge stopped for no gain, and it's 3rd & 5. Warner throws it away, and Arizona misses an opportunity to put up a big lead. End of the third quarter, and it's 28-17 Arizona.

Ryan held to seven yards in third quarter, and he overthrows Jenkins to cause another punt. Edge gets five but a facemask penalty adds another 15, and Cardinals are in Atlanta territory. Arrington screen pass goes nowhere. Warner to Urban only gets a couple of yards, and they're going to need a nice gain on third down to get into Rackers field goal range. Breaston falls down on the route, it falls incomplete. Falcons dialing up a bit of pressure to get the key stop there.

Ryan is in the grasp for a safety, making up for an earlier call. Ryan just held onto the ball too long. Cardinals do nothing with their opportunity, and the Falcons will get a shot to get within one score. Ryan leads a long drive and finds Roddy White for the touchdown to bring the Falcons within six, 30-24, with just four minutes left in the game. Warner's play action frees up time to find Steve Breaston for a nice gain. Disastrous end around to Breaston, and John Abraham drops him for a huge loss. That's just a dumbass call. Warner finds Spach with nobody around him in the field for a 22-yard gain to bring it to the 2-minute warning. Falcons have no timeouts left, so Warner will take a knee. That's going to end it, 30-24.

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