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Posted: Sunday January 18, 2009 7:43PM; Updated: Monday January 19, 2009 9:58AM
Ross Tucker Ross Tucker >
INSIDE THE NFL

NFC Championship report card: Eagles-Cardinals

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Kurt Warner rose to the occasion in the fourth quarter for the Cardinals.
AP
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Grading out the performances during the Cardinals' 32-25 NFC Championship win (Recap | Box) over the Eagles on Sunday.

Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback: Kurt Warner started out on fire, playing a near perfect half and making the Eagles pay for every blitz they threw at him. He then hit a lull in the third quarter before heating up again in the fourth quarter for the game-winning drive when it mattered most. Warner was the better quarterback in the game, going 21 of 28 for 279 yards and four touchdowns. He is the No. 1 reason the Cardinals are going to the Super Bowl. Grade: A

Running Backs: Solid performance for the third week in a row. Edgerrin James was effective, especially in the first half, and finished with 73 yards on 16 carries. Tim Hightower was fantastic in short yardage. J.J. Arrington, James, and Hightower all made plays in the passing game, including Hightower's game-winning touchdown. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers: Larry Fitzgerald proved yet again that he is a big-time player because of the plays he makes in the most important games. He was a man possessed, finishing with 152 yards on nine catches and three touchdowns. Anquan Boldin kept the Eagles honest, opening the door for Fitzgerald's performance. Grade: A+

Offensive Line: Arizona had fantastic blocking to start the game on the opening drive both protecting Warner and giving both James and Hightower room to run to the left side. It held up pretty well overall with the exception of left tackle Mike Gandy, who was beaten a number of times by Trent Cole and had a false start. There was excellent blocking on the game-winning drive, especially on the screen pass touchdown to Hightower. Grade: B

Defensive Line: For the third straight week, this group shut down the run. They did not have a big impact on the Eagles' passing game as most of the pressure came from blitzes and second-level pressure. Antonio Smith's body-slam was just plain dumb and he was lucky it did not have a major impact on the game. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes made their presence felt a number of times in the run game and Dansby got his hand on at least one ball. Nothing spectacular, just steady enough to get it done. Grade: B-

Defensive Backs: Longtime Cardinal Adrian Wilson officially introduced himself to the country with a performance for the ages. The defense's equivalent of Fitzgerald had seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie is a stud and proved it most of the game with the exception of the deep ball to DeSean Jackson. Aaron Francisco had a costly fumble after his interception and was beat deep by Kevin Curtis on a critical 3rd and 19. Grade: B+

Special Teams: Neil Rackers had an important 49-yarder at the end of the first half. He and Ben Graham had kicks out of bounds that they did not intend. Grade: B

Coaching: Clancy Pendergast and Todd Haley called amazing games for the Cardinals defense and offense, respectively. Ken Whisenhunt had his team ready to go at the outset and instilled enough confidence in his charges that they were able to come from behind in the fourth quarter. Whisenhunt has officially turned around a franchise, which is no easy task. Grade: A+

Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterback: Donovan McNabb was productive yet erratic as usual, finishing 28-for-47 for 375 yards and three touchdowns with a pick. He made a number of plays, including a 22-yard run early, but was unable to hit many receivers in stride and allow them to run after the catch. The Eagles needed better from McNabb, especially early. Grade: C

Running Backs: Brian Westbrook made a couple of nifty catches and showed an ability to adapt when necessary. The Eagles had very little production to speak of in the running game as they abandoned it early. Westbrook didn't have the impact many expected. His ailing knee may have been an issue. Grade: C

Wide Receivers: Normally the weak point of the offense, this unit had a very good day. Curtis finished with 122 yards on only four catches. Brent Celek and Jackson made a number of big plays as well as the receivers held up their end of the bargain. Grade: A-

Offensive Line: The line didn't create a ton of room in the running game, but it wasn't asked to. The line effectively shut down the Cardinals defensive line, but didn't pick up Wilson on a couple of occasions, including one instance in which Tra Thomas appeared to miss him. Grade: B

Defensive Line: Trent Cole came to play and got a number of hits on Warner and a sack. Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson were solid against the run but not as dominant in short yardage as they had been the last couple of weeks. Grade: C

Linebackers: Stewart Bradley had nine tackles. Akeem Jordan got caught up in the trash when he was supposed to cover Edgerrin James on a critical third down. This group did not appear to do a good job picking up Boldin and Fitzgerald on crossing routes, especially early. Grade: C

Defensive Backs: The Eagles did not get enough production from a group that was considered among the league's best. Fitzgerald was singled up and open way too many times. Rookie Quintin Demps was overmatched at times and showed his immaturity with the late hit on Warner. Grade: C-

Special Teams: The normally reliable David Akers missed a field goal and an extra point. He also had a kickoff that went out of bounds. Not his best day. Grade: D

Coaching: Leaving Fitzgerald singled up is hazardous to your health and the Cards made Jim Johnson pay for it. Haley and Warner seemed like they were always one step ahead of the blitzing Birds. The Eagles made a valiant comeback in the second half, so you have to credit Andy Reid for that, but why weren't they ready to go at the start of the game? Grade: D

MORE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

RECAP: Cardinals upend Eagles 32-25

VIDEO: Relive the NFC title game

BANKS: Cards are the most unlikely Super Bowl team

JENKINS: Cardinals become another Cinderella story

 
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