Up next: Kolb comes back confident for Cards

The Arizona Cardinals' search for a replacement for Kurt Warner – the quarterback that took them to the Super Bowl – is in its second season. And now, for the first time, there appears to be some hope that they've found their man in Kevin Kolb.

Kolb played well in the second half of Arizona's 19-13 overtime victory Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, completing nine of 14 passes for 203 yards.

It was a dramatic turnaround from the first half, when Kolb was awful, throwing for only 44 yards.

In the second half, however, he showed why the Cardinals traded for him in July. Granted, that evidence came in December, but at least it came.

"It certainly takes a lot off his shoulders," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There has been a bunch of stuff piled on his plate, and to see him handle everything the way he did today and have success in the second half, this is what you have to do.

"Maybe the time for him away was a chance to catch his breath and get comfortable with our scheme. He was very sharp in the second half."

Kolb had missed the previous four games with a right foot injury, and the rust was evident in the first half. However, he settled down in the second and was especially sharp in the fourth quarter and overtime.

In those periods, he completed seven of 11 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown, which won the game in overtime.

Despite a rocky start to his time in Arizona, Kolb said he never lost confidence.

"I was raised different than that," he said, "and I've been through enough situations. It's just the urge to play better and find a groove in the offense through the team."

Kolb acknowledged that the Cardinals improved without him during his time out. The defense has yielded five touchdowns in its last five games, and the special teams have produced big plays.

"I just like this group," he said. "We were 1-6, and we were fighting just as hard as we were the first week. You don't see that everywhere, and that's a big reflection of our leadership, our coaches and the players we have in the locker room."

THE CARDINALS CONSIDER THE 49ERS their biggest rivals, although you wouldn't know it by the games between the two teams over the past three seasons.

San Francisco has earned five consecutive wins over Arizona, including three weeks ago at Candlestick Park in San Francisco when the 49ers dominated the action during a 23-7 victory.

The Cardinals' weaknesses were evident in that game, especially the offensive ones. John Skelton started at quarterback and was replaced after completing just six of 16 passes.

Offensive coaches left that game frustrated because they felt the Cardinals had opportunities to make big plays against the 49ers. Skelton was erratic, missing on early throws to Larry Fitzgerald and others.

Now Kolb has returned as the starting quarterback. The Cardinals went 3-1 – their only loss that blowout to the 49ers – while he was out with a right foot injury that included turf toe, a ligament sprain and a bone bruise.

While Skelton showed promise at times in those games, his inexperience also was evident. He struggled with accuracy throughout, and he started slowly in every game.

Before the first game against the 49ers, the Cardinals had a quarterback controversy heating up. Skelton had looked decent in two starts, and Kolb had struggled in his last three before getting hurt.

But Skelton's performance starting with the 49ers game ended that.

Now the rest of the season, at least from an offensive standpoint, is all about getting Kolb comfortable in the offense.

That appeared to happen in the second half of Sunday's overtime victory against the Cowboys. Kolb looked rusty in the first half, throwing for only 44 yards. A simple rollout to start the second half seemed to flip the switch for him. He hit Larry Fitzgerald for 14 yards on the play.

While the Cardinals didn't blow the scoreboard lights out in the second half, Kolb did pass for 203 yards, and he threw the game-winning touchdown pass to LaRod Stephens-Howling.

It was a huge step for Kolb, who was playing poorly when he suffered his foot injury against Baltimore on Oct. 30.

THE CARDINALS WERE SURPRISED WHEN THE COWBOYS called timeout before Dallas kicker Dan Bailey tried a 49-yard field goal at the end of regulation. Whisenhunt was contemplating calling timeout to ice Bailey, but he didn't have to. He watched Bailey make a kick before the timeout, and he was going to fake calling one before the next try.

"When the timeout was called and he made the kick, there was no way I was going to ice him at that point," Whisenhunt said of Sunday's game. "Because I figured the karma's got to turn around and he's got to miss it. Now, I was faking like I was going to call it."

How do you fake calling a timeout?

"You go up to the official and I actually told him, 'I am not going to call timeout but I'm going to fake like I'm going to,'" Whisenhunt said. "So he's kind of looking at you and you're standing there like you're going to call timeout and you don't call it. It's an art form."

TRENDING: The Cardinals' offensive woes have been most apparent on third down this season. Arizona has converted just 30 percent of the time, which ranks near the bottom of the NFL. The team has been in too many third-and-long situations, but that's not the only problem. The Cardinals haven't been able to convert on third-and-short, either. Inconsistencies in the running game have played a part, but the biggest culprits are poor play at quarterback and a lack of pass protection. The two are related, of course. Quarterback Kevin Kolb has to prove he is willing to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball under pressure.

LINEUP WATCH: Free safety Kerry Rhodes participated in a practice last week for the first time since he suffered a broken foot against the Vikings on Oct. 9. His absence, however, hasn't had a negative impact because other players have compensated. Rashad Johnson has been steady in the base defense, and he leaves the game in nickel situations. Cornerback Richard Marshall moves to safety then, and he's played well in a different role for him. The question for coordinator Ray Horton will be how much he wants to change his lineup when Rhodes returns.

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