Edge, Cards Starting Over

Edgerrin James stood in his locker, Washington Nationals hat on his head underneath his bright orange hoody, answering questions about his 100-yard rushing performance – just like he did (save the outfit) after the Cardinals’ first game of the season.

It served as a metaphor.

A lot happened with James between that first 100-yard game in San Francisco – a lot – and Sunday’s regular-season finish, a 34-21 win over Seattle. But just as James produced more than he had in weeks, so too did the Cardinals as a whole.

With a playoff game less than a week away, it’s what the Cardinals needed.

“This is when it is fun,” James said. “The regular season, it’s all good. It is cool. But this is when football starts. This is when everything is serious. One mistake could be the deciding factor.”

The Cardinals had played poorly for two games, and while coach Ken Whisenhunt said it was more important for his team to play well Sunday, it felt like a victory was necessary.

To get that win and to have it echo some of the Cards’ best successes of 2008 – Kurt Warner’s touchdown passes, the defense forcing turnovers, a semblance of a running game – should provide some of the momentum the team so desperately craved as it they awaits the Falcons.

“We finally got back to what we wanted to do,” guard Reggie Wells said.

Yet it was hard not to notice James suddenly playing a factor.

Benched for rookie Tim Hightower at midseason, James had just 11 carries in five appearances since and didn’t play a snap in three other games. His agent was vocal in the press that James would like to be released, but mostly, James kept to himself and avoided causing distractions.

Whisenhunt said multiple times when asked that, at some point, the Cardinals were going to need James.

Sunday, with the Cards’ running game generating little production of late, the Cards needed James.  

“I just think the direction we took as a team was the difference,” James said of his hiatus from the starting lineup. “I could always play. In the offseason, I don’t train to be no speed back. I try to be the guy who gets the RBI, who gets on base and keep the party going. My thing is, I hate to lose yards. I want to keep moving forward.”

It took just 14 carries for Edge to gain 100 yards. He had a 35-yard run, not only the longest for a Cardinal this season but James’ longest in three Arizona seasons.

James would probably argue the point, but he looked fresher than he ever had as a Cardinal, too. His motivation is double – not only was he desperate to play, but with the likelihood he will be released after the season, he wants to prove to the rest of the NFL he is worthy of another hefty contract.

That meshes perfectly with what the Cardinals need too.

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin sat out a second straight game with a sore shoulder, but he will play in the playoffs. Fellow receiver Larry Fitzgerald three times provided highlight catches Sunday and was spectacular in his postseason tuneup.

If Warner can stay sharp – Whisenhunt said Warner’s lone interception was a miscommunication between Warner and the receiver – the passing game should be fine. James grinding out yards would be the perfect accessory.

Whisenhunt said he wasn’t “down” on Hightower and that he didn’t yet know what the best fit is for the Cardinals going forward. Whether the coach was being coy and unwilling to tip his hand to the Falcons or whether he is truly undecided in his backfield will make for an interesting storyline this week.

“No one wants to go home,” James said. “As much as people complain about practice and the schedule you have, when it comes down to this time right here, nobody will mind staying out a little longer and doing what it takes to win. You are three games away from Tampa, and to make it to Tampa and be in the Super Bowl, that would be one of the greatest things ever.”

James doesn’t want to lose yardage when he carries the ball. He also doesn’t seem to lose sleep over his situation – which, in the end, could help the Cardinals.

“That’s the one thing you love about Edge,” Warner said. “He never goes backwards.”