MATTHEW MORIARTY: Getting Ready for a Super Letdown
The Arizona Cardinals are the worst team ever to make it to the Super Bowl.
I'm not exaggerating for effect. Arizona is an average, at best, football team with one great player and a whole heck of a lot of luck. There is no reason to believe that they deserve to be on the field with the truly dominant Pittsburgh Steelers, and I fully expect the Steel Curtain to come down to the effect of 50-7 or so today.
You may think this is sour grapes, because I was there to witness the Arizona Cardinals visit Charlotte and put a hurting on one of the best Carolina Panthers teams I've ever had the pleasure to watch.
Well, you're half right. I did attend that game and from my seat in the stands I could see that my guys were getting beat by a thoroughly mediocre team. It really made me angry. That's why I'm rooting for Arizona to get killed. I'm convinced they will.
Defense wins championships, right? Not for the Arizona Cardinals. They finished in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed. The all-important points-per-game category was terrible. In a 32-team league, they finished 28th, allowing an astonishing 26.6 points a game.
They scored only 26.7 points per game. That 0.1 point was enough to get them a 9-7 record, best in their division (the weakest in football). That gave them a home playoff game on grass against a dome team (11-5 Atlanta) with a rookie playing quarterback.
I'm not even close to done. Let's talk about the NFC West for a second. Arizona won the NFC West by besting the powerhouses of San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis. The division went 22-42 overall, the worst in the NFL. Arizona went 6-0 against division opponents. The Cards' closest competition, the 49ers, had an interim coach who made it one half into his head-coaching career before mooning his team.
The Cards went 1-5 against the rest of the NFC and 2-2 against the AFC. The two wins against the AFC? Early season victories against Miami (which had yet to find its way) and Buffalo. During the regular season, the Cardinals allowed the Jets to score 56 points, the Eagles 48 and the Patriots 47.
Hey, the regular season means nothing, right? All that matters is what you do in the playoffs. In Arizona's first game against Atlanta, the Cardinals stacked the line of scrimmage to stop the Falcons' running game and dared rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to beat them. Ryan threw the ball 40 times in order to accumulate 190 yards passing. Not good.
The Cards used a great game plan to take advantage of an opponent's weakness and beat a better team. Big ups to head coach Ken Whisenhunt. That's where the Cards' journey should have ended.
Carolina had other ideas. Maybe it was hubris. Maybe it was an honest mistake. Maybe Carolina head coach John Fox just didn't know that, with Anquan Boldin nursing a sprained groin, Arizona has only one player who can hurt you: Larry Fitzgerald. Carolina single-covered Fitzgerald the entire first half, usually with its second-best cornerback or a linebacker. He had 166 yards receiving, most of it in the first half. That, combined with Jake Delhomme having the worst performance by a quarterback in NFL playoff history pretty much gave the Cards the win.
Then came the NFC Championship Game and the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly had upset the Giants the week before moving the NFC Championship Game to Arizona, another break for the Cards. I was certain that the Eagles wouldn't make the same mistake as the Panthers and leave Fitzgerald single-covered. My theory was, even if you want to blitz nine guys, keep the other two on Fitz.
Well, Philly didn't see it that way and let Fitzgerald get free releases off the line of scrimmage and cruise right past his defender. Larry is good. He's very, very good. But the way teams are playing him makes him look like Jerry Rice.
Arizona again built a huge first-half lead and held off a comeback attempt by the game Eagles (once Donovan McNabb finally figured out how to hit open receivers) and secured a Super Bowl berth.
Put it bluntly, it's been pretty easy on the Cards up to this point. But luck runs out and Pittsburgh has the league's best defense, a solid running game and a quarterback with a Super Bowl trophy.
When Arizona beat the Eagles, the stadium loudspeakers in Arizona blared "We Are the Champions." Guess they forgot they have one game left. Their Super Bowl T-shirts might as well have said, "Just happy to be here."
Matthew Moriarty is a former staff writer who now lives in Durham.
More like this story