Edge goes from bench to Super Bowl in "weird year"

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Edgerrin James was a big part of many terrific teams as running back for the Indianapolis Colts.

Yet he never made it to the Super Bowl until he was with an Arizona Cardinals franchise that has no history of winning, in a season that saw him benched for the first time in his career.

"Yeah, it's weird," he said, laughing. "This has been a weird year."

James is back in his accustomed role as lead back in a rejuvenated ground game that figures large in the Cardinals' plans against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He brings a lot to the table for us that has been seen in the improvement of our running game," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

James said after Arizona's practice Friday that at the end of his seven-game exile to the bench he drew up a few of his favorite running plays and showed them to offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

"I think you play better when you actually make a suggestion and the coach listens to you," James said. "We've been running some of those plays that I've been comfortable with and we've been getting results."

James came back in the final regular-season game to rush for 100 yards in a victory over Seattle, a performance that moved him into 11th on the NFL career rushing list.

In the three playoff games, he has 203 yards in 52 carries, an average of 3.9 yards per attempt. Arizona has outgained its playoff opponents on the ground 333 yards to 232. That's an average of 111 yards per game after a league-worst 73.6 yards per game in the regular season.

James said the Cardinals are just giving him and the running game more opportunities.

"You throw the ball 50 times and you run the ball nine or 10 times you are most likely not going to have a good rushing game," he said.

He felt he didn't fit in when Arizona went to an offense that relied so heavily on throwing the ball.

"I've always played the game a certain way," James said. "This is my style of play, mixing up the pass and the run versus lining it up to throw it every time. I'm no scatback. I never tried to be."

After he gained 17 yards in seven carries and had a critical fumble in a 27-23 loss at Carolina on Oct. 26, James lost his job to rookie Tim Hightower.

James had his agent ask the Cardinals to release him. They refused to even consider it, and James did not raise a fuss personally.

"You have to go out and take it like a man," he said. "You have to take the good with the bad. When things weren't that good, I continued to come out here and tried to help Hightower and the other running backs and do as much as I could."

He joked about having more leisure time.

"I ended up reading a ton of books," he said. "I didn't look at the playbook as much."

Kurt Warner knows how it feels to lose a starting job, so he empathized with James. Warner said James "is a huge part" of Arizona's hopes against the Steelers.

"The way he runs and his ability to make something out of nothing are huge keys," Warner said. "The difference between a 0-yard gain and a 2-yard gain is huge within the course of a drive. He does that as well as anybody. I've seen him when there's nothing there, but he puts his head down and moves the pile."

Any semblance of a run game against the fierce Steelers' defense would allow Arizona to go to play-action passes that create favorable matchups with the Cardinals' standout receivers.

James' teammates are happy to have him back in the huddle.

"Just his leadership ability is outstanding," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said, "the way he practices, he finishes runs, picks up pass protection, never complains, always on time, durable, you can continue to go on about Edge and what he brings to this team."

James has a year left on his contract with Arizona, but he said several weeks ago that he believed he would not be back by mutual agreement with the organization. That means the Super Bowl could be his last game in a Cardinals uniform.

"I'm not even focused on anything past this game," he said Friday. "Anything beyond this game I'm not going to think about."

He said he sees the Cardinals operating now at a level he always felt they could reach since he signed as a free agent three seasons ago.

"We put it together," he said. "This team has a lot of talent. For some reason, it just wasn't coming together. Coach Whisenhunt and his staff and everybody came together and we got it rolling."