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Warner's season (and career) not done yet
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GLENDALE, Ariz.Kurt Warner insists he was saying thank you, not goodbye.
There was reason to believe differently following Arizona’s madcap, 51-45, overtime playoff victory over Green Bay. As after every winning Home game, Warner went toward the stands to celebrate with family and friends. He then did something new. Warner ran back onto the field in front of the south end zone and waved to the euphoric crowd before rejoining his teammates in the locker room.
The gesture had all the makings of a farewell from a quarterback who is considering retirement. Warner, though, said that wasn’t the case.
“Relax,” a smiling Warner said when asked by the media. “It’s my way of saying thanks to the fans because I know we’re not coming back this year (for the playoffs). I appreciate their impact and what they’ve done for us.”
Warner said he won’t make a decision on his playing future until the offseason, which means there is still a chance he will return for one more year. That’s great news for the Cardinals, the NFL and sportswriters who appreciate his accommodating nature. Not only is he one of the league’s best players, but Warner is also an even better off-field role model with his extensive community service.
The Packers, though, would have loved to say good riddance on Sunday.
Though it was a clutch defensive play that won Sunday’s first-round matchup, Warner caused Green Bay’s demise. He enjoyed the greatest performance of his storied 12-year career in the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history. Warner sliced through Green Bay’s defense like the overmatched units he faced when playing in the Arena League during the mid-1990s. He finished with more touchdowns (five) than incompletions (four) in a 29-of-33 passing performance. He threw for 379 yards without an interception. And he did this without the services of standout wide receiver Anquan Boldin against what was the NFL’s No. 2 defense during the regular season.
Warner was even hotter than Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He needed to be. Rodgers almost bailed out Green Bay with his own exceptional, 422-yard, four-touchdown effort.
“We knew we needed every play,” said Warner, whose team squandered leads of 17-0 and 31-10. “It was going to take that kind of effort with all the weapons they have offensively and how they’ve been playing.
“It was just one of those games where I felt great. I loved our (game) plan. I felt like I was seeing everything well.”
Warner spread the Football to six different targets on his first seven attempts and frequently found holes in a Swiss-cheese secondary. His touch was on display when threading a pass to Boldin replacement Early Doucet that turned into a 15-yard touchdown. Warner isn’t known for his mobility, but he was sacked only once because of quick releases, good pocket presence and a solid offensive line effort.
Even when Warner was slightly off, his best wide-out picked up the slack on an 11-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Larry Fitzgerald made a diving, one-handed grab on a pass that Warner thought had sailed out of bounds until hearing the crowd roar.
“Kurt is one of the best playoff quarterbacks of all time,” said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, who rested Warner for almost all of last Sunday’s 33-7 loss to Green Bay in a meaningless regular-season finale. “We thought going in today that would be an advantage for us.”
But such brilliance could easily have gone for naught. Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers pulled a Mike Vanderjagt and badly shanked a 34-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining in regulation. Green Bay then won the overtime coin toss.
Because the Packers had scored on seven consecutive possessions before a late kneel-down, Warner said he was “scared” Arizona’s offense might not take the field again. It didn’t have to. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby returned Rodgers' fumble 17 yards for a touchdown early in overtime, sending the Cardinals to New Orleans for Saturday’s second-round game.
“Yeah, it worried me, but that’s what’s great about a team effort,” Warner said. “I know the defense gave up a lot of points today, but when we needed them, they made a play. That’s what it takes to win these types of games.”
When Arizona’s season ends, Warner will mull his NFL future with wife Brenda. Age isn’t the main consideration. Warner, 38, has played at the same high level this season that helped the 2008 Cardinals reach the Super Bowl.
The longer Warner plays, the greater his Hall of Fame chances become. In a modest 12 playoff games, Warner already has more postseason touchdown passes (31) than every other quarterback except Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Dan Marino.
“He’s still got it,” Dansby said.
Warner also doesn’t know when he will lose it. That’s one of the things he is concerned about. The same goes for his health. Warner, who has a history of concussions, has acknowledged he considered retiring immediately after suffering another one against St. Louis in November.
“I never want to make an emotional decision,” Warner said. “I think it’s easy to do. After a game like this, you can say, ‘I want to play forever,’ or after a bad game say, ‘Ahh, I’m done.’ I don’t want to do that, but I do continue to think about it and have done so over the past few years.
“I don’t think you ever want to stay too long, but you never want to go out before it’s time. The hardest part is figuring out when that is.”
As with fellow graybeard quarterback Brett Favre, Warner’s love of the game and competitiveness may prompt him to return for the final year of his Cardinals contract. Warner enjoys physical challenges so much he played H-O-R-S-E last week against the younger, more athletic Fitzgerald — and won.
“I think he would miss the competitive part of football, but Kurt has so many things going on outside the field,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got a lovely family with seven kids. He does a great job in ministry and public speaking. There’s so many things he can do after football, but we want to keep him here as long as possible.”
Here’s a short-term solution: Just keep winning. That means Warner won’t be going anywhere for at least three more games.
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