The Cardinals trailed the St. Louis Rams last week heading into the fourth quarter, needing only a field goal to take the lead. Yet, when the offense maneuvered its way down to the red zone — the last 20 yards before reaching the end zone — a funny thing happened.
The Cardinals scored a touchdown, a relatively easy score on a pass to wide-open tight end Adam Bergen, after an audible by quarterback Kurt Warner.
Two more red zone trips in the quarter produced two more touchdowns in securing the victory, and the Arizona offense, troubled all season by red zone failure, suddenly couldn’t be stopped.
At least, that’s how it felt.
"That’s probably the number one factor, believing you can do it," tackle Leonard Davis said. "If you get down there and you’re not doing it, almost like, ‘Oh, we get so far and then rely on Neil Rackers to kick a field goal,’ to me, that’s the wrong way to go about it.
"When you get inside the 15-, 20-yard line, that’s touchdown territory. You work so hard to get down there, you want to see six points."
The celebration is tempered, of course. Despite the Cardinals converting four of six red zone trips into touchdowns last week and two of three the week before in Detroit, Arizona remains nextto-worst in the NFL in such red zone efficiency, at 30 percent.
It’s no surprise that none of the bottom nine teams in the league in the category are above .500, or that their combined record is 30-60.
Still, the Cardinals’ percentage was a mere 14.3 percent after eight games, so offensively, it isn’t surprising their confidence has jumped.
"I think confidence is a big part of it, believing you will get into the end zone, but it comes down to making plays," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "That’s what we have been missing are big-play touchdowns. The best teams, they get big-play touchdowns."
Warner pointed to the catch-and-run of Anquan Boldin last week against the Rams, in which Boldin caught a 1-yard pass and ran the other 12 yards for a score, somehow avoiding six St. Louis defenders surrounding him.
The Cardinals had confidence in their ability to score coming out of training camp. It seemed to have faded, although some players insist they never really considered the red zone issues a permanent problem.
"When I come to the teams I’m on, I’m real naive," Boldin said, smiling, "so I am always expecting everything to go right."
Whether the Cardinals have truly found a way to consistently get into the end zone will be tested by today’s visit from Jacksonville. The Jaguars have the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense. In addition, their defense has allowed fewer trips into the red zone by opponents than anyone else in the NFL — just 22.
On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville also has an idea about breaking out of a scoring funk on offense.
The Jaguars have scored at least 30 points the past two weeks, after tying Cleveland’s NFL record of 58 straight games of not reaching that plateau.
"Some of that hard work you put in, you see the fruits of that labor, and I think that all kind of adds up and builds some positive momentum," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. "It’s kind of like the more you score, the more you think you can score."
A few weeks ago, Cardinals coach Dennis Green was talking about how scoring "is not that difficult."
Green likely overstated his point. But it’s become clear of late that reaching the end zone isn’t nearly as difficult as it was before for his team.
And that means life is not as difficult for the Cards.
"It makes things easier when you score touchdowns," Davis said. "A lot easier."
EXTRA POINTS: The sudden recovery of wide receiver Bryant Johnson is apparently complete. Johnson should play today, after the Cardinals released receiver Reggie Newhouse Saturday. Johnson’s shoulder injury was bad enough to have him listed as out on Wednesday’s injury report, but he was upgraded to doubtful Thursday and questionable on Friday. Taking Newhouse’s spot on the roster is tackle Dante Ellington, who was just signed Wednesday to the practice squad. . . .
Rackers will be the subject of ESPN Countdown’s "Mayne Event" this morning, a humorous piece behind the "real reason" the kicker has been so good. Countdown airs from 9 to 11 a.m.