It didn't really happen did it? I mean, I know it was two days ago, but it just seemed like a dream, and I didn't want to ruin it.
The Cardinals won.
Better yet, they played well. No it was a dominating win, and yes, I was terrified after the Rams recovered that onside kick late in the game that the Redbirds were, once again, going to find a creative and fun new way to blow a lead, but it didn't happen.
Let the rejoicing begin...or at least as much rejoicing as one can muster for a 3-9 team.
The offense played well, Matt Leinart made good decisions, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin made the grabs they are supposed to make, and Edgerrin James finally had a game worthy of his career numbers. Things are looking up...or at least looking level.
What does it mean? Is it a sign of things to come (next year) or just an indictment of the St. Louis Rams, who are only as good as their 5-7 record indicates? I'm going with the latter. Sorry, I'm just not used to writing about actual improvement.
Remember, save Neil Rackers forgetting how to kick a football during the first half of the year, the Cards could very easily be 5-7, even 6-6. This team is not 'ready for primetime' nor are they contenders, having already been eliminated from the postseason. As was pointed out right here on CardinalInsider.com, using all three running backs does not mean Edge can't have a good game, and it shouldn't have taken Denny Green half a season to figure out that with a line this bad maybe a second round pick (Taitusi Lutui) was worth a shot in the starting lineup. The common thread in all these accusations?
Denny Green is not a very good coach.
I'm piling on, I realize this. After three seasons, Denny Green is going to be gone, and the replacement list grows seemingly daily. Of course there are the mandatory Pete Carroll rumors (not going to happen, loss to UCLA or no), Steve Mariucci is an intriguing choice, but I think it's going to take more money than the Bid-lows are willing to pony up. Mike Martz could be fun to watch, but the downside is that if he brings his 'greatest show on turf' antics to Arizona, it's going to take more than a season for Leinart and Company to really get comfortable, and how long do we want to wait?
The obvious choice, for me, is Ron Rivera, defensive coordinator of the Bears. Why? Because if we're going to emulate the Colts, do it all the way. We've got the smart QB, we've got the uber-talented receivers, and we poached their running back. Now let's go get a defensive minded coach (remember Tony Dungy was the guy who built that stupid-good 'D' in Tampa Bay before Jon Gruden swooped in and won the Super Bowl with them) who can, almost immediately, forget about defense.
Of course, the biggest downside to this argument is that, despite having the best offense maybe in the history of the NFL, Dungy hasn't gotten the Colts to the Super Bowl, much less a Roman Numeral Game win. But the counter to that is pretty easy.
Baby steps. Let's make the playoffs more than once a decade first, and worry about winning the big one later.
Rivera is, of course, widely credited with putting together a Bears defense that not only limits opponents to a touchdown or less virtually every week, but can even win when they are playing another team as well as their own offense. His trick? No excuses. If a member of the Bears defense starts saying something along the lines of, "But coach, Rex Grossman is horrible!" Rivera nips it in the bud. The Cardinals need that, need a guy who not only won't tolerate excuses, he throws them right back at his players.
But I digress, because the Cardinals actually won a game.
It's a shame. The Cards have, on offense, top 5 talent in the league. The 'skill position' players are all above average, and in a division as bad as the NFC West (those of you who are about to explain that the 49ers have gotten much better are correct, but the Seahawks are not nearly as good as they were last year, Where have you gone Steve Hutchinson?/Alexander misses running behind you...woo woo woo) the Cardinals really could have challenged for a wild card birth this year had the offensive line been, you know, an offensive line.
This year the Cardinals can, once again, point toward the future and smile. They can say, with 100% conviction, that they are set at QB for several years, that they are set at receiver for several years, that they are set at running back and tight end for several years. With the exception of a true run stuffing defensive tackle, I like the defensive line (and resigning Kenny King, while not sexy, is a good move). Antrel Rolle is not Champ Bailey, and probably shouldn't have been taken as high as he was, but he's a respectable corner, and the defense is starting to show the same opportunistic slant that they showed last year.
Even that much beleaguered offensive line now looks one or two players (notably a center) away from being pretty good, as opposed to four weeks ago when I truly believed there were six or seven college offensive lines that were better. I'm not sure there were many Redbird fans dancing in the streets on Sunday, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few dancing in a corner, alone, in the dark.
They were practicing, and having the will to practice is a step forward right now.