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Cardinal sins

Arizona reaches all-time low with historic choke job

Posted: Tuesday October 17, 2006 2:29AM; Updated: Tuesday October 17, 2006 7:09PM
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After the Cardinals' stunning collapse, Dennis Green went on a postgame rant that will surely live in infamy.
After the Cardinals' stunning collapse, Dennis Green went on a postgame rant that will surely live in infamy.
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As horrible a franchise as Arizona is, it has reached a new low. An all-time low. The Cardinals' Monday-night performance was one of the biggest choke jobs in sports history. If you didn't see it, you won't believe it. I don't see how Dennis Green can recover from this and keep his job. I don't see how Edgerrin James can recover from this, this season, and be anything but a massively disappointing millionaire. And I don't see how Neil Rackers can show his face in Arizona without getting pelted by tomatoes.

If you missed the game, or went to bed late in the third quarter with the Cardinals leading 23-3, you won't believe that the Bears, with Rex Grossman playing the worst game of his life, came back to win 24-23. But that's what happened.

"This could be the most bizarre football game I have ever witnessed,'' Joe Theismann said on ESPN. Could be?

There are so many tentacles to this game, so many flooded tributaries, that I hardly know where to begin. But let's start at the end, with a sound bite that will live in infamy. Green was visibly shaken after his team surrendered three crazy touchdowns -- two on fumble returns, one on a punt return when Chicago's Devin Hester ran 83 yards -- in the final 16 minutes. After composing himself a little during the first three or four questions in his postgame news conference, he went off on an innocent question about whether he was surprised to have forced six turnovers by Grossman. (That's right, six. The winning quarterback turned it over six times.)

"The Bears are what we thought they were,'' Green said, his voice beginning to rise before explaining how the Cardinals played them in the third game of the preseason, winning 23-16 in Chicago. In that game the Cardinals built a 20-6 lead with Chicago's first offense on the field, which means that in seven quarters this year -- including the preseason game -- Grossman has driven the Bears to zero touchdowns and three field goals. Against the 1-5 Arizona Cardinals!

Green, his lip quivering, then punched the microphone on the podium. "If you want to crown 'em, then crown their a--!'' he yelped. "They are who we thought they were! And we let 'em off the hook!'' Green stood there for a minute, staring ahead, then walked off the podium into the locker room.

Surreal moment of the year: Cardinals media relations director Mark Dalton then calmly stepped to the podium and said Matt Leinart would be in the room soon.

Can't blame Green for freaking out. In brief, the turn of events that caused it: With the Cardinals up 23-3 and 10 seconds left in the third quarter, Arizona right tackle Oliver Ross inexplicably failed to block the only man rushing anywhere near him, left end Mark Anderson, who came in clean on Leinart, sacked him and forced a fumble. Safety Mike Brown recovered it and ran it in for a touchdown. Cards, 23-10.

With nine minutes left in the game, Grossman threw a tipped interception to Arizona's Darnell Dockett, who returned it 73 yards for a touchdown -- or did he? The Bears challenged the return, saying Dockett's knee hit the ground early in the return. Rookie referee Jerome Boger concurred, changing the call to a minus-one-yard return instead of a 73-yard TD. Arizona stalled, then punted. Grossman threw another interception, this one to safety Robert Griffith. Again, the game should have been over. But two plays later, with the Cardinals trying to run out the clock and five minutes remaining, James -- who had a historically bad night, with 36 carries for 55 yards, the most futile rushing night in the NFL's 86-year history -- burrowed into the line and had the ball stripped by Brian Urlacher. Cornerback Charles Tillman picked up the fumble and ran 40 yards for the touchdown. Cards, 23-17.

The Cardinals went five plays and a punt. With three minutes left, Hester weaved through the Cardinals' punt team for an 83-yard touchdown. Bears, 24-23.

Amazingly, the Cardinals had life. Somehow, Leinart, starting his second NFL game, drove Arizona 38 yards against a blitzing defense, stalling at the Chicago 23. Surely, Rackers, who hit 40 of 42 field goals last year in the best season an NFL kicker ever had, could punch through a 41-yarder on a windless Arizona home field.

With 52 seconds left, Rackers kicked it, and it headed straight for the left upright. It knuckled left, missing by maybe two feet. Rackers ran down the field the other way, holding his helmet in disbelief.

"I am sick for these guys,'' Rackers said later. "I want to throw up.''

So did the state of Arizona. This one's going to reverberate for a long, long time. Green is 12-26 now. The franchise is absolutely dispirited now. If the Cardinals lose at Oakland, the only winless team in football, this week (and how in the world, on a short week, will they muster up the gumption to go to Oakland or even to Tempe High and win Sunday?), I wonder if Green will even finish the season.

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