The wait is over. The Arizona Cardinals have enjoyed a well-earned playoff bye and two weeks’ rest. It’s time again to lace ‘em up, strap it on and start slapping butts in the locker room.
The Green Bay Packers are in town, and they don’t expect a cordial welcome from 63,400 strong in University of Phoenix Stadium. It will be the venue’s 104th straight sellout.
Arizona’s 38-8 home triumph over Green Bay twenty days ago is still fresh in mind for the “Red Wave.” The Cardinals faithful watched their team sack QB Aaron Rodgers eight times and hold him to 151 passing yards Dec. 27. A vengeful Packers team will take the field today, fresh off a comeback win over Washington in the wild card round last Sunday. The contest will hinge on whether Green Bay has the firepower to match that of Cardinals, and conventional wisdom says no. Arizona leads the NFL in total offense with 408 yards per game and is second in points scored with 30.6.
But Green Bay has more playoff experience than Arizona. And Rodgers is one of the best at his craft, leading the Packers to a Super Bowl win in 2010.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has no NFL playoff victories to his credit. He shares that distinction with you, my attorney and the I.T. guy at work, the one with excessive chest hair. To be fair, Palmer’s only had two cracks at it, both with the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincy lost to Pittsburgh in 2005 and the New York Jets in 2009.
2009 was a bewitching playoff season in the Valley of the Sun, thanks to the late-career wizardry of QB Kurt Warner, who led Arizona on an improbable run that died in a crushing last-minute loss to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. With his heroic status cemented, Warner hasn’t had to pay for a drink since. Never mind that he doesn’t drink. He’s in the pantheon of Cardinals greats, and Carson Palmer’s on a quest to join that lofty fraternity.
Is Palmer too old at 36 to find playoff success in today’s speedy and powerful NFL? Warner was 37 in 2009. Tom Brady’s still agile and accurate at 38. Palmer has his health, abounding offensive weapons and has led the Cardinals to 13 wins this season. He set franchise records with 4,671 passing yards and 35 TDs. This is his time.
Palmer and coach Bruce Arians are pleased with the 13 wins but they’ve cast their eyes forward and are hell bent on notching three more and gripping the ultimate prize. To inspire his troops, Arians would do well to remember the story of Alexander the Great, whose army arrived on Persian shores and found it was vastly outnumbered. Alexander did not slip into retreat or call in reinforcements. Instead he gave the order to burn boats.
Nothing readies a man for a fight more than the savage realization that there is simply no avenue of retreat. You win or you die.
Welcome to the NFL playoffs.
This blog is not sponsored by a generous grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation