Boivin: James, Cards now need each other

The Cardinals have put their own spin on a box-office smash. Call it The Curious Case of Edgerrin James, a triumphant tale about a man who clearly is aging backward.

Ken Whisenhunt's comments Monday that James looked "fast" and "fresh" against Seattle signaled another interesting turn in the Cardinals' running-game saga. Although the coach was non-committal, James is expected to land the role of lead back in Saturday's playoff game against Atlanta, a fascinating twist considering earlier implications that the back's 30-year-old legs couldn't cut it anymore.

Wrong. James is back, and although this awkward reconciliation followed a bizarre series of events, the truth is it will benefit both sides greatly.
James looked strong against Seattle, and if the Cardinals hope to succeed against the Falcons, they need a running game that can eat up the clock and help a pass attack be productive. Let's be honest. This playoff game is like a highly publicized combine for James. He wants to do his best for the Cardinals, but if it also means showcasing his skills for other teams, so be it.

Both sides should embrace the circumstances. The Cardinals are a team that catches few breaks. If this unlikely series of events led to this positive outcome, celebrate it.

Yes, it has been head-scratching.

"It's like we said a long time ago," Whisenhunt said. "If we have Edgerrin, we can count on him later in the year."

What does that mean? That he's good enough now but wasn't good enough four weeks ago?

Whisenhunt also said it's nice to have a player "looking like he's in good shape for the playoffs."

The coach almost sounds like he was saving James for the postseason.

The truth is a lot more complicated, a convergence of events that led to this improbable outcome. Whisenhunt liked what he saw from Tim Hightower at a time when he didn't like what he saw from James, including a missed practice and words that challenged the coach's decision-making.

His running style was also less in demand when the Cardinals shifted to a pass-heavy attack. Throw in some big-play performances by Hightower and the need by Whisenhunt to exert some disciplinary muscle.

In recent weeks, however, Hightower hasn't done enough to hang onto the role of featured back. It doesn't mean he can't be one; it just means James is more deserving right now.

Whisenhunt said the Cardinals opted to give James the bulk of the carries against Seattle "to see where he was."

Clearly, he's in a good place.

"Edge is really underrated, I think, when it comes to how hard he runs and how he continually goes forward," Cardinals guard Reggie Wells said.
He proved that Sunday with 100 yards on 14 carries against Seattle.

He's 11th on the NFL's all-time career rushing list and a pair of 100-yard games from eighth.

He's 30, not a geriatric.

As twisted as the path to this reunion was, it's a great Xs and Os decision for a team everyone is writing off, including most oddsmakers who have the Cardinals as underdogs for this home game.

The opportunity for a playoff victory appears to have infused both player and coach with the ability to live in the moment.

"Edge is one of the best teammates any of us has been around," Wells said. "Obviously, maybe things didn't work out the way he envisioned them this year, but he's never changed, never been a different guy on the field or in the locker room with us."

Wells spoke Monday of how James walked around the locker room after the team clinched the NFC West title and asked teammates to sign his hat.

"He wants to win, and he's still very much into this team and its success," he said.

Good to know, because the Cardinals will need him more than ever Saturday.