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Top Five: Regular Season Wins in the Ken Whisenhunt Era

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With football fever in the air, a look at the Top Five regular season wins in the Ken Whisenhunt era.

I am just overflowing with jealousy right now. It seems like 90% of the Arizona-based people I follow on Twitter are up in Flagstaff enjoying the cool air and, more importantly, the beginning of Cardinals training camp.

As if my football lust wasn't great enough, getting to see pictures of the guys going through workouts has basically made me begin frothing at the mouth, Cujo-style, for the game. To commemorate my probable case of rabies, I wanted to take a look at some of the greatest regular season successes in the Ken Whisenhunt era.

I theoretically could have involved playoff wins, but the Cards have been fortunate enough to claim four such victories in the past two seasons, so the list would have become crowed with those. A convenient problem to have, but hopefully in a couple years, playoff wins will get their own list.   

I wasn't sure if you needed criteria for a straight forward list such as this, but I'm feeling charitable so ... criteria:

  • Had to have been a regular season win in the last three seasons. Is your mind blown?
  • It matters how good the opponent was.
  • Had to have had some impact on the Cardinals moving forward. Or like Herman Edwards would say, "We can build on this!"
  • It had to have had a big impact on me. Because frankly, I'm what's important here.

Honorable Mention:

  • 2007, Week 2 v. Seattle Seahawks (23-20 - first win in the Whiz era. Cards blow a 17-0 lead, but hang on to beat the three time defending NFC West champs behind a solid performance from Matt Leinart)
  • 2008, Week 1 v. San Francisco 49ers (23-13 - first season opening win on the road since 1999)
  • 2008, Week 11 v. Seattle Seahawks (26-20 - road win in Seattle pushes Cards win to 7-3 and team to the brink of the NFC West crown)

(1) - 2008, Week 6 v. Dallas Cowboys

Result:  30-24 win (OT)

The Game: In a very expected turn of events, both the first and last plays of the game were special teams touchdowns. And by expected turn of events, I mean it's the only time it's happened in NFL history. 

J.J. Arrington - making his first appearance of the season - returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to give the Cards an early 7-0 lead. After a brief scoring stalemate, the Cardinals seemingly scored a touchdown when they recovered a Tony Romo fumble in the end zone, but the tuck rule reared its ugly head and Dallas retained the ball. Given new life, the Cowboys scored several plays later to even the score. 

Dallas scored on their opening drive of the third quarter, but the Cards marched right back down to keep the game tight. Following the Cardinals score, river boat gamblin' Ken Whisenhunt attempted an onside kick that failed, giving Dallas excellent field position. The Cowboys moved into field goal range, but a Romo fumble knocked them out and they were forced to punt. 

Arizona was stuck on their own six yard line before Kurt Warner hooked up with Steve Breaston for 17 yards and someone called Larry Fitzgerald for 39. After a few gashing runs from Edgerrin James, Warner again hooked up with Breaston for a touchdown (the first of Breaston's career). 

The Cards got the ball back after a Cowboy three and out and drove five minutes for a field goal to give them a 10 point lead with just 3:17 to play. Looked like it was over, right?

After getting backed up to a 2nd and 20 from their own 25, Dallas looked as if they were on their last legs. But then the poor tackling theme from the 2008 season made one of it's initial appearances as Marion Barber slinked his way 70 yards through some keystone cop-like tackling and brought Dallas back within three. 

Using all their timeouts, Dallas was able to quickly snuff out the Cardinals next drive and got into field goal range following a Romo to Jason Witten completion. Five yards was added to the gain after Cardinals perpetually-injured defensive end Travis LaBoy was unable to make it downfield before Dallas spiked the ball. Aided by the extra yardage, Nick Folk nailed a 52-yard field goal to tie the game as time expired.

Now headed to overtime, the Cowboys won the toss and, with momentum firmly on their side, appeared in control. Romo was sacked on the first play of overtime and the hit affected his pinky (causing him to miss the next several weeks) to the point where he couldn't get Dallas another first down. 

A breakdown in the Dallas punt protection allowed Sean Morey and Monty Biesel to come barreling down towards Cowboys punter Mat McBriar. Morey swallowed up the punt and Biesel scooped it up and traveled about two yards for the game winning score.


StarSteve Breaston - eight catches, 102 yards, and one touchdown.

Significance: The win pushed the Cardinals record to 4-2 and gave them a two-game lead in the NFC West. But it wasn't just the division lead that made this so sweet. This was a type of game the old Cardinals lost; only teams with the Cardinals history manage to lose games where they held a 10-point lead with just over three minutes left in a game. 

After opening the season 2-0, the Cards faulted badly on a two-game east coast swing against the Redskins and Jets. Though they defeated the 4-0 Bills the previous week, Buffalo was about as much of a paper champion as a team could be.

Beating Dallas felt like a real win, over a real team when circumstances didn't all break the Cardinals way. It was the type of game winning teams pull off. 

(2) - 2009, Week 13 v. Minnesota Vikings

Result:  30-17 win

The Game: Considering how the game started, the result seemed surprising, to say the least. As had become a bit of a trend in Cardinals' prime time games in 2009, the Cards turned the ball over when Tim Hightower fumbled on the second play of the game. 

Minnesota jumped on the opportunity and drove down the field for an opening touchdown in the form of Favre to Shiancoe. That just about covered the Minnesota success portion of our Sunday Night Football programming. 

Steve Breaston returned a punt 64 yards late in the first, but wound up just short of the end zone. Anquan Boldin finished the drive when he hauled in a two-yard pass from Warner to even the score. Boldin added a second touchdown in the second quarter when he cut back on an underthrown ball by Warner and tightroped his way for a go-ahead score. 

Ryan Longwell hit a field goal to slice the lead to 4, but the suddenly unstoppable Cardinals offense cruised right down the field on a five-play, all-passing drive to go ahead 21-10 going into halftime. 

Facing a bit of adversity for the first time in a season where his team was off to a 10-1 start, Brett Favre started reverting to his old gunslinging ways and threw two second half interceptions. Arizona turned both picks into field goals and buried the game. 

Star(s) - Kurt Warner - 22/32, 285 yards, three touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald - eight catches, 143 yards, one touchdown. Anquan Boldin - seven catches, 98 yards, two touchdowns.

Significance: Coming off their NFC Championship the previous season, the 2009 Cardinals had been an up and down bunch. They opened the season 1-2, but rolled to three straight solid wins. Apparently riding high off those three wins, they got hammered by a bad Panthers team at home. 

Three more wins were nice, but the competition was questionable to say the least - Chicago, Seattle, and St. Louis were basically glorified Big 10 teams. In the final game of that triumvirate, Warner suffered a concussion that caused him to miss the Cardinals loss to Tennessee. 

Taking on and beating a 10-1 Minnesota team - at the time considered the co-class of the NFC (with New Orleans) - was a forceful sign that the team wasn't going to give up their conference crown without a fight. I was absolutely convinced the Cardinals were going to win the Super Bowl after this game. 

(3) - 2007, Week  4 v. Pittsburgh Steelers

Result:  21-14 win

The Game: Pittsburgh got out to a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter on a long touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes (a combination that will haunt me for life). For the second consecutive week, the Cardinal offense struggled to get on track under Matt Leinart and late in the first quarter, Kurt Warner took his first drive. 

An untimely and rare fumble by Larry Fitzgerald ended Warner's first drive and a 52-yard missed field goal by Neil Rackers ended the second. Yet the Cardinals defense held the Steelers in check and it was still 7-0 headed into the half. 

On the Cardinals first drive of the second half, Warner again got the call and led a touchdown drive capped by a Jerheme Urban TD catch (how odd do those words look written down on paper?). The teams swapped late third quarter turnovers after Kurt Warner fumbled on the Cardinals four yard line and Roethlisberger was intercepted by Adrian Wilson in the end zone. 

The breakout moment for Arizona happened on an early fourth quarter punt when rookie wide receiver Steve Breaston danced his way 73 yards for a go-ahead score. After yet another punt by Pittsburgh, Leinart returned to the game and led a long touchdown drive - culminating in a two-yard TD run by Edgerrin James - to seal the win. 

Star:  Darnell Dockett - five solo tackles, three sacks.

Significance: The win was just the second in the Whisenhunt era and it didn't really end up amounting to much in the long run, as the Cards went just 8-8. Yet to borrow a line from international man of mystery, Justin Burning, "It was the first time the Cardinals felt like an NFL team." Now I'm no NFL expert, but I think part of competing in the league is being a real NFL team. 

In all seriousness, this was one of those W's where after it was over, any Cardinals fan was fairly certain Whiz was the right man for the job, no matter how early it was. If only he could have repeated the same trick against the Steelers 17 months later. 

Matt Leinart made one more start for the Cardinals the next week before succumbing to a season-ending shoulder injury. All that followed for Warner and the Cardinals was four playoff wins in the next two and a half seasons.

(4) - 2008, Week 10 v. San Francisco 49ers

Result:  29-24 win

The Game: The Arizona Cardinals were hosting a Monday Night Football game, they were over .500, and the crowd was hyped. That lasted all of 12 seconds, as Allen Rossum returned the opening kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown to get San Fran off to a quick start. 

At a few points in the first half, It appeared that the Cardinals were prepared to assert themselves, but each time, the Niners kept themselves in front. When Arizona sliced it to 7-3, Shaun Hill found Josh Morgan for a touchdown. Then, after the Cardinals added 10 more second quarter points to close the lead to 1, Hill found noted Cardinal killer Vernon Davis over the middle to carry a 21-13 lead into the half. 

The second half opened with a bit of risk-taking from the Cardinals as they went for it on a 4th and 1 from the San Franciso five yard line. Fortunately, they have someone named Larry Fitzgerald and, as usual, he meant six points after hauling in a sprawling end zone grab. 

Yet there was still no quit in the plucky Niners as they tacked a field goal onto their lead. Late in the third quarter, Antrel Rolle seemingly scored off a Shaun Hill interception, but Adrian Wilson was ruled offsides. 

But just two plays later, Hill fumbled and the Cardinals took possession on the 49er 10 yard line. However, Arizona could only muster a field goal and the Niners stayed on top. 

It took another Shaun Hill interception for the Cardinals to finally find their way into the lead. With a little over five minutes left in the game, Hill was picked off by Karlos Dansby, who made it all the way down to the Niners five yard line. Warner found Boldin for a touchdown, but the drama was far from over.

San Francisco drove all the way down to the Arizona 18 yard line on their next drive before Adrian Wilson saved the day with an athletic interception. But just because it wasn't quite enough drama, the Cardinals played conservatively and ceded the ball back to the Niners with just 1:06 left.

A poor punt, combined with a decent return, had San Francisco in Cardinals territory and after three straight passes to Jason Hill, they were on the one yard line. 

After Hill spiked the ball to stop the clock, Frank Gore took a handoff and was almost accidentally tripped up two yards shy of the end zone. On the final play of the game, offensive coordinator Mike Martz apparently decided the Cardinals would be shocked by a handoff to reserve running back Michael Robinson. While they may have been shocked that that was the play call, it did not fool the defense, who stopped Robinson cold as time expired. 

Star:  Kurt Warner - 32/42, 328 yards, three touchdown passes. 

Significance: The win was the first for the Cardinals on Monday Night Football since they moved to Phoenix. But in a more immediate sense, it helped the Cards open up a four-game lead (and also a tiebreaker over San Francisco) in the division with just seven left to play. 

Even as the Cards limped their way to a division title the rest of the season, this win provided them enough cushion to hang on.   

(5) - 2009, Week 7 @ New York Giants

Result:  24-17 win

The Game: Another Sunday Night Football game and just like the other two (the Vikings game, which was yet to come, and the early season Colts game), the Cardinals opening drive ended on a Tim Hightower fumble. Aided by an impressive interception by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the scoreboard showed zeros for both squads after one quarter. 

A costly second quarter interception by Kurt Warner gave New York the ball at the Cardinals 29. A few rumbling runs by Brandon Jacobs later and the Giants were on the board first. 

Beanie Wells scored his first career touchdown later in the second quarter to draw the Cards even, but a fluky pass was tipped by DRC and wound up in the hands of New York's Hakeem Nicks to put NYG back in front. Arizona chipped in a field goal to cut the halftime deficit to 14-10.   

On their first drive of the second half, the Cards used two long Warner to Fitzgerald passes and punched the ball into the end zone on a short Tim Hightower run. 

Three drives later, Adrian Wilson picked off a Eli Manning pass deep in Giants territory and found their way to pay dirt moments later - opening a 24-14 lead. 

New York got a fourth quarter field goal, but with under five minutes to go, running back Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled away the Giants first opportunity to tie. After a quick three-and-out, the Giants retook possession and even drove down to inside the Cardinals 40 before Antrel Rolle snagged a Manning pass and ended the game. 

Star:  Antrel Rolle - six solo tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, one pass deflected.

Significance: Though New York would tumble badly down the stretch of the season and miss the playoffs, they came into this game 5-1 and had home field advantage throughout the playoffs the previous season. 

Considering the Cardinals' complete lack of success each and every time they had traveled back east - including a 56-35 slaughter in the Meadowlands against the Jets a season earlier - a significant road victory over a good team was a very big deal. 

Those are my five, and I completely expect that you'll be in agreement. Yet in the interest of debate, I will consider any of your suggestions, just please read the title before you spout off something about the NFC Championship Game. Also, no Rams games will be considered.