Boldin Ready To Go, But Shouldn't Rush Back

His face still puffy from surgery, receiver Anquan Boldin said this week that he's hopeful of playing Sunday against Carolina, one month after suffering a vicious hit against the Jets. Boldin suffered a concussion and two facial fractures, one on each side of his face.

But Anquan Boldin has returned to practice this week, at least on a limited basis. He has passed the concussion test and likely will be questionable for Sunday's game against the Panthers.

"I feel like I'm ready to go," said Boldin, who has missed the past two games. "That's what I've been working toward the past couple weeks, getting back on the field after the bye week, so hopefully it will work out."

Unlike last year, there is no reason for Boldin to hurry back from injury this year. At 4-2, the Cardinals have a two-game lead in the NFC West, and his replacement, Steve Breaston, has performed well.

But Boldin is as tough as any player in the league, and he's anxious to return. He went through surgery and the days after without any medication.

"I don't do pain meds," he said. "I dealt with it."

Boldin lost 10 pounds in the days after surgery because he was limited to a liquid diet. He has since regained the weight as he's been able to eat solid food. He has lifted weights and run routes for the past two weeks and thinks he is ready to go.

A big test for him was being able to fit into his helmet.

"I don't have any problems with it, like I thought I would," Boldin said. "I thought there would be a little pressure."

When he does return, Boldin won't have to wear any special protection, just the facemask and visor that he usually wears.

Smith was suspended for one game and fined $50,000 for the hit, but Boldin didn't view the play as dirty.

"It was just unfortunate but that's kind of been a point of emphasis around the league this year," Boldin said. "But that's football. I don't blame nobody. I chose to play this game and I'll continue to play. That's just a risk you take when you play it."

SERIES HISTORY - 8th meeting. The Panthers lead, 5-2, and have won the last four games. The clubs have met in six of the past seven years, an oddity considering they aren't in the same division. And the games have been odd, too, mostly because of news events surrounding the Cardinals. Last year, the Panthers won, 25-10, with Vinny Testaverde at quarterback.

Testaverde signed with the Panthers after being pursued by the Cardinals. In the game, Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner suffered a torn left elbow ligament, and Tim Rattay, who had been with the club only a few days, took over. In 2004, the Panthers beat the Cardinals, 35-10, after coach Dennis Green benched Josh McCown for Shaun King the night before the game. The Cardinals had won three of their previous four games when Green made the move and went 2-5 the rest of the way to finish 6-10.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Safety Adrian Wilson has been put on notice by the league that another unsportsmanlike hit during a game will result in a suspension and $50,000 fine. Wilson was fined $25,000 for the hit that knocked Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards out of the game. Wilson has been called for 17 personal fouls in his career, but this is his eighth year. He says he won't change the way he plays.

--Cardinals players don't seem thrilled with the proposal to expand the schedule to 18 games.

"I hope they keep it the way it is. I think everything is perfect," said receiver Anquan Boldin, who is coming off a concussion and two facial fractures as a result of a hit against the Jets on Sept. 28.

"Eighteen games, you'd probably have to go to two bye weeks because this game is way too physical, too fast. You see the way guys go down, week in and week out, and I think that would play a big factor in how teams perform."

--QB Kurt Warner was so shaken up by the hit Boldin took against the Jets on Sept. 28 that he started thinking more of retirement. Boldin has talked to Warner about the issue and told his quarterback not to let things like that affect his decision.

"It's football," Boldin said. "Unfortunate incidents happen whenever you play this game. That's a risk you take. We all know what we're getting ourselves into when we sign up for this game, and I hope he (Warner) doesn't let anything like that end his career."

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt knows how quickly things can change in the NFL. Two weeks ago, the Rams were written off. Then they won two straight. Two games ago, the Cardinals were 2-2 and coming off a disastrous road trip. Now they've won two straight.

"It seems like a couple of weeks ago there weren't a lot of people saying many good things about us," Whisenhunt said. "And we won two games against two good football teams (Buffalo and Dallas) and people start to notice a little bit. All we're focused on is going into Carolina and trying to get a win."

BY THE NUMBERS: 64 - That's the percentage of time the Cardinals have scored touchdowns when inside their opponents' 20. That ranks sixth in the league.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was crazy. So many different fans. You have all those TVs showing all those games. It's information overload. It was exciting." -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt on eating lunch in a sports bar last Sunday during the bye.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Cardinals released center Al Johnson from the practice squad on Tuesday, and he plans to file a grievance. The moves weren't unexpected. Johnson underwent two knee surgeries in the off-season, including one just after training camp started. The team wanted him to take a paycut, but Johnson declined to accept the terms. So the team placed him on IR with the intent of releasing him when it deemed Johnson to be healthy.

Johnson denies that he's healthy enough to play, and an arbitrator likely will decide the issue.

Johnson's replacement, Lyle Sendlein, has struggled in several games this year, so the club misses Johnson's presence and leadership. Sendlein, in his second year, likely will develop into a solid player, but he's not there yet.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Tim Hightower, a rookie, is excelling as the team's short-yardage back. He is 10 for 10 in gaining first downs on third and fourth downs and a yard to go.

--WR Steve Breaston filled in capably for Anquan Boldin the past two games. Breaston caught 15 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. Breaston has improved greatly from last year, his rookie season, and that development reminds coach Ken Whisenhunt of former Steeler Antwaan Randle-El's.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Cardinals need to control the Panthers' front four. The Panthers don't blitz much, counting on their defensive linemen to apply the pressure.

That's probably the best way to defend the Cardinals, providing there is pressure. If Kurt Warner's timing is disrupted, he tends to make mistakes. The idea is to take away Warner's first options and make him move around in the pocket.

Defensively, the Cardinals are going to have to bring their "big-boy pads", as defensive tackle Bryan Robinson likes to say. The Panthers are a physical run team with two good backs in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

Receiver Steve Smith will test the Cardinals secondary, which has experienced some blown coverages this year.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Panthers CB Ken Lucas -- Fitzgerald caught six passes for 97 yards against the Panthers last year. Fitzgerald is enjoying his finest season and is much better at running after the catch.

Cardinals LT Mike Gandy vs. Panthers RDE Julius Peppers: Peppers has four sacks and has forced two fumbles, but Gandy has been very steady in pass protection for two years. Gandy needs to neutralize Peppers and protect Kurt Warner's blindside if the Cardinals are going to do much.

Cardinals CB Rod Hood vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith: Hood is the team's best cover cornerback. Two weeks ago, he matched up the entire game with Cowboys' receiver Terrell Owens and held Owens in check for most of the day. Smith beat Hood for a touchdown last year when Hood blew a coverage, thinking he had deep help.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Anquan Boldin likely will be questionable for Sunday's game. His face is still swollen from surgery that inserted eight plates to repair fractures on each side of his face.

--TE Ben Patrick is dealing with a knee injury and likely will be questionable for Sunday. His injury leaves the club thin at tight end. Starter Leonard Pope is coping with a sore foot/ankle but Jerame Tuman has returned and helps as a blocker.

--TE Leonard Pope didn't practice Wednesday because of a continued ankle problem. Pope likely will be able to play on Sunday.

--S Aaron Francisco (thigh) is hopeful of playing Sunday against Carolina. Francisco plays a key role on special teams and in the team's nickel packages.

--OLB/DE Travis LaBoy likely will be questionable with a groin injury. LaBoy suffered the injury against Dallas. His backup, Bertrand Berry, is healthy and is an excellent pass rusher.


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