Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. This is a phrase once said by a bunch of people that I don't really feel like Googling and one that you've probably heard about six million times at one time or another.
Do you think it's true? I don't know. Is it true? Yes, yes it is and you'd be wise not to debate me on the issue.
If you've not yet figured out what the hell I'm talking about then I'll spoil the fun for you: It's the two-time defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals.
On Sunday, the Cardinals managed to defeat the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints by a final score of 30-20. In a vacuum, you'd probably assume one of two things occurred in this game: either (1) Max Hall had the greatest debut in undrafted rookie quarterback history or (2) Kurt Warner decided he'd rather play football than do color for a game with the lame dude from The Best Damn Sports Show Period.
Yet on both counts you'd be incorrect.
Instead, the Cardinals managed to post 30 points without either a rushing or passing touchdown. It took three field goals, one fumble recovery for a touchdown, one pick-six by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and the standard recovered fumble by tackle Levi Brown that was turned into a TD for the Cardinals to count to 30.
But even in addition to those scores, just about every ball or break went the Cardinals' way. Here's a sampling:
- On that Levi Brown touchdown, Max Hall was leveled just near the goal line, forcing a fumble that landed in the waiting hands of Brown. Hall didn't die, his helmet didn't fall off before the ball came out, and that oblong brown sucker basically did the rest.
- With the Cardinals trailing 13-10 on their first drive of the third quarter, Hall decided he hadn't been appropriately rocked by the Saints defense yet, so he took off running. Unfortunately, the Saints Remi Ayodele knocked the ball loose during Hall's dash. Yet, the ball again cooperated with the Cardinals, rolling 10 yards forward until Alan Faneca fell on it. Hello, field goal range.
- Beanie Wells fumbled on the New Orleans 16 on the first drive of the 4th quarter, but the ball bounced straight back into his arms.
- Two plays after the Cardinals went ahead for the first time, Darnell Dockett forced a fumble that was scooped up smoothly by Kerry Rhodes, who sprinted in for his second such touchdown in as many weeks.
- With 59 seconds to go in the game and the Saints out of timeouts, Ken Whisenhunt made the somewhat curious decision to throw on third-and-8. Ben Patrick fumbled after his reception and the ball sat quietly five yards down the field. Fortunately (again), Larry Fitzgerald landed on the ball -- in bounds, no less -- which permitted the Cards to run 25 more seconds off the clock.
That's FIVE really lucky fumbles, and that doesn't even take into account a 29-yard missed field goal by 736-year-old John Carney (whose head appeared to be molding) late in the third quarter.
But you know what -- it just doesn't matter how lucky you are. The NFL is a league where the absolute bottom line is winning and losing.
Not to call out SB Nation Arizona King Seth Pollack or anything, but in conversations following the Cardinals win over the Raiders a couple of weeks ago, he commented that the game was effectively a loss. In that game, Sebastian Janikowski missed three field goals, including the would-be game winner as time expired. But no matter what I do, every time I look at the standings, it still says that game was a win.
In that game and the Saints game yesterday, the Cardinals relied on a certain amount of good fortune to pull off the victory. Due to those two wins, the team now sits at 3-2 and alone on top of the NFC West.
Look towards the bottom of the standings to see where unlucky puts you. The Niners are currently 0-5, but three of their losses are by 3, 3, and 2 points, respectively.
A few breaks their way in those games and they could probably be 3-2 themselves. But as I've said before and I'll say again, there are no moral victories in the NFL, just like there are no moral losses (ahem, Seth).
The difference in the NFC West over the past two-plus years has been that the Cardinals have found ways to win those close games -- sometimes on flukey or lucky plays -- while the Niners have lost time and again.
Now don't get me wrong -- you cannot be completely inept and still somehow find ways to win. As scrappy as I'm sure the 1985 McClintock High School football team was, they probably lack the requisite football skill to put themselves in position to benefit from good luck.
You need to have skilled players and the Cardinals certainly have that. I mean to take nothing away from a Cardinals defense that played inspired football or the All-Pro wide receiver who had his best game of the year, including a catch while being dragged down by the facemask. But sometimes that talent needs a little lucky push to help pull off a win.
Look at almost any winning team and you'll see that all their wins weren't solely based on just being awesome. You need the players, but you also need the breaks. That's the recipe for winning.
Can you count on two defensive touchdowns, great fumble fortune, and missed chip shot field goals every week? Almost certainly not, unless you're the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals or find a leprechaun somewhere.
There's obviously still a great deal to work on for this Cardinals team. Being the beneficiary of a bunch of breaks to beat the Saints doesn't make you a great team. Max Hall is going to have to be better and the defensive line has to continue getting pressure on the quarterback for the winning and good times to continue, but a win's a win and you always take that.