As Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt ran off the field Sunday, he spotted a familiar face and rolled his eyes toward the heavens.
He was looking in the wrong direction.
God didn’t help Arizona beat the Seattle Seahawks, 23-20, although Seattle’s fumble with 1:48 left may have seemed like a gift from above.
It was the Cardinals’ offensive line that provided the inspiration — and the perspiration.
Yes, that’s right.
The offensive line.
You remember the front five.
The butt of jokes. The bane of fans. The false starts, holding penalties and wasted draft picks.
Well, guess what?
That was Dennis Green. This is Russ Grimm.
The Cardinals’ offensive line isn’t getting sand kicked in its face anymore. These guys can play, and as proof we offer two statistics from Sunday’s game:
Matt Leinart threw 37 passes and wasn’t sacked once.
Edgerrin James ran for 128 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
His per-carry average last year: 3.4.
“We’ve done an excellent job of stepping up and running the football,” guard Deuce Lutui said.
Don’t make the mistake of reading too much into the Cardinals’ victory. This wasn’t a turning point, as some players suggested.
Arizona could easily lose to Baltimore and Pittsburgh the next two weeks, and all Sunday’s win would mean is that it’s 1-3 instead of 0-4.
But there is something important brewing on the offensive line. The Cardinals paid Grimm $1 million to work miracles and, so far, he’s done exactly that.
Think about it.
Arizona’s line consists of two rookies (center Lyle Sendlein and tackle Levi Brown), a second-year player in Lutui, free-agent signee Mike Gandy and fifth-year pro Reggie Wells.
There isn’t a Pro Bowl-level player among them, yet they’re playing better as a unit than the line did at any time last year.
“Our coaches are doing a great job of keeping everything consistent,” James said.
“You can’t come in on a Wednesday and then have to do something different on Friday.”
Translation: There was so much confusion and chaos under Green the Cardinals’ linemen didn’t know their left from their right.
Grimm has refined their techniques and, just as importantly, whipped them into shape. The line has lost more weight than your average middle-aged sportswriter.
The transformation has been remarkable. Last year, James would be surrounded by bodies as soon as he got to the line of scrimmage. Against the Chicago Bears, he needed 36 carries just to get 55 yards.
Sunday, he didn’t have a single carry that went for negative yardage.
“That’s just huge,” Leinart said. “It’s huge for Edge and the confidence he has now again, because last year we struggled. ... The offensive line is far more advanced and way better as a group than they were last year.”
After Seattle tied the game 17-17 in the third quarter, several linemen went to Whisenhunt and said, 'Let’s run the football.”
It would have been a ridiculous request in 2006. Plus, Green rarely got within earshot of his players during a game.
Whisenhunt, though, listened to what they had to say. And when the game was on the line, the linemen repaid his faith in them.
After Matt Hasselbeck’s fumble, the Cardinals got the ball back on Seattle’s 46-yard line with 1:48 remaining.
Arizona called the same play — “35” — four straight times. James gained 22 yards on those four carries, putting the Cardinals in position for Neil Rackers’ 42-yard game-winning kick.
It was Pittsburgh Steelers’ football, imported by Whisenhunt and Grimm.
“Being able to run the ball at the end of the game and get in field position, that’s what we talked about all of preseason and even into the season, so it was nice to
see us be able to do that,” Whisenhunt said.
Lutui sat on the stool in front of his locker long after many of his teammates had showered, dressed and headed out for the night. He was sore all over.
But the Mesa High graduate couldn’t have been happier. The Cardinals had their first win. James had his 100-yard game. Leinart left in one piece.
And, for once, he wasn’t answering questions about what went wrong, but what went right.
“It feels good,” Lutui said, “for it to be the other way around for a change.”