Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Disaster in the Desert:Bears,down 20, catch Cards

In another Monday Night thriller Arizona blows a 20-pt lead to lose
24-23 to Bears Devin Hetser's kick return for a TD was the winning score

This is one of those games that defies description. I mean I saw it, I know what happened, I know how it happened, but I still can't believe it actually did happen.
The first incredible part of the whole thing is that the Cardinals were actually whipping the undefeated Bears, jumping out to a quick 14-0 first quarter lead and pushing it to 20-0 at halftime. That's right, the hapless, underachieving, perennially disappointing Cards were trouncing the Team of the Year, the superior both offensively & defensively, Chicago Bears. On National television, in their first MNF game at home since 1999 in their gorgeous 450 million new stadium. And it was all thanks to the mature, clutch, confident play of rookie QB Matt Leinart.
The first year signal caller was making only his 2nd career start. His first one, last week vs. the Chiefs was memorable both for his success ( he became the 1st QB in history to throw for over 250+ yards w/ a 60% completion percentage) and the teams' failure (the Cards jumped out to a 14-0 1st quarter lead only to blow it in the final minute and lose 23-20.) Cue the Twilight Zone music please.

Tonight the game started out the same even though the opponent was the 6-0, high-scoring, hard-hitting Chicago Bears. After attempting an 80-yd bomb on the first play that missed Bernard Big Play Berrian by 5 yards the Bears were forced to punt, and The Cards onslaught began. Leinart drove the team right down the new, retractable grass field on a 12-play,77-yard drive highlighted by his 5-5 passing and capped by his 11-yd TD pass to Bryant The Other Penn St. Johnson. Before you could say "Ditka" the Cards were up 7-o and the new Univ. Of Phoenix stadium was rockin' in red; it was the 1st Td allowed in the 1st quarter by Chicago all year. Then after a Grossman (and was he gross, man: 14-37, 148 yds, 4INTs, 2 fumbles-OUCH) pick the Cards utilized the short field as Leinart (24-42, 232yds,2TDs, no INTs) threw a pass to Anquan Boldin that the former FSU star turned into a 26-yd TD and a 14-0 Arizona lead after 1 quarter. Wow.
Boldin was high-steppin after his score

It wouldn't end there as the Bears started to regress back to the Bears of the past decade and the Cards were playing like, well Leinart's old team, the USC Trojans. They just kept pressuring Grossman into foolish mistakes and taking the Bears out of their game all thew while mounting drives and keeping the pressure on the Chicago defense. But the trouble began when the Cards couldn't put it back in the end zone before the half, settling for 2 FGs when they were in touchdown range and spreading the score by only 6 points to 20-0 at the half. That inability to cash in on those Red Zone opportunities would come back to haunt Arizona before the eerie night was through.

The second half brought more of the same: Grossman resembling the Grossman many people thought he would be- unsure, insecure, mistake-prone and absolutely clueless. The Bears offense was truly offensive on this night: 168 total yards, 6 penalties & 6 turnovers (not including 2 fumbles that were recovered.) But yet they would come back in this game. And it would be without the aid of an offensive touchdown. It all started when the Cards could not tack on any more points after their initial 20-pt burst. Time & time again Leinart & co. would try to get to the end zone and time & time again they failed. The game started to take on a feeling of "something is going to happen soon", and it soon did. The Bears finally got on the board with a FG halfway thru the 3rd quarter while the Bears D, obviously after a little pep talk at halftime, came out with a vengeance, led by All-Everything LB Brian Urlacher.

Near the end of the 3rd the Cards were pinned deep in their own end of the field when the Chicago D struck: Mark Anderson came at Leinart like a runaway train, smashing into the QB and jarring the ball loose; it was scooped up by Mike Brown who ran it in 3 yards for the score that gave the Bears a glimmer of hope and made the score 20-10 heading into the 4th. Unfortunately for Arizona it would not end there. The Cards looked as if they'd have a big, momentum swinging score when they intercepted Grossman and returned it 73 yards for an apparent score. But the score was overturned (he was down) and the Cards would eventually give it back to the Bears again. That's when the impossible happened and an interesting game turned into an all-timer. With over 5 minutes to go Edge James coughed up the ball near midfield thanks to the omnipresent Urlacher (11 tackles) and recovered at the 40. Charles Tillman scooped it up and ran the 40 yards for theTD and suddenly it was a 20-17 game with just 5:00 to go. Gulp.

"They couldn't blow this, could they?" is all I kept thinking, but despite my disbelief, the Cards could & would blow this. After a 5 play drive stalled the Cards were forced to punt it back to Chicago with about 3:00 minutes to go. Little did they know it would be the end of the game right there. The punt was fielded by rookie Devin Hester who took it at the 17 and raced 83 yards to the other end of the field for the soul-crushing, go-ahead TD that wound up being the final score 23-20. Although the Cards still had a shot, as Leinart drove the team and set up a 40-yd FG attempt with less than a minute to go. But normally clutch kicker Neil Rackers missed the potential game winner for the 2nd week in a row, and the Cards stole a defeat from the jaws of victory. In the blink of an eye the Cards' dynamite play, Leinart's excellent performance, and a ton of good feelings and positive happenings were wiped away and replaced with that familiar "oh no, not again, how did this happen?" feeling. Menawhile the Bears celebrated like it was 1999, somehow miraculously winning this game DESPITE NOT SCORING AN OFFENSIVE TOUCHDOWN.

As I said, I saw it and I know it happened, but I still don't understand how. Evidently neither does Cards coach Dennis Green, who gave an expletive-laced tirade in his postgame press conference before storming out without responding to the meltdown any further. To his credit Leinart remained the consummate pro in the end, saying all the right things and remaining the picture of responsibility and composure, even if his own coach could not do the same. It looks as though the Cards found a keeper in the young stud from Cali. It's too bad the team just can't find a way to win.

NOTES: There were a lot of 'firsts' in this wild one, here are a few:
- Bears became the 1st team in history to come back from 20pts down & win without the benefit of an offensive touchdown
-Cards became the 1st team to lose consecutive games when leading 14-0 after one quarter.
-Edge James became the first player to total so few rushing yards (55) on so many carries (36.)

I'm sure more firsts will come to light, but one thing's for sure: no one will forget the first Monday Night Football game played in the University of Phoenix Stadium. Ever.

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