NFL Playoffs: Cardinals 30, Falcons 24
By Bob Baum
GLENDALE, Ariz. ó The Arizona Cardinals were no playoff pretenders.
Kurt Warner opened with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald and connected with Anquan Boldin on a 71-yard scoring play as the Cardinals beat Atlanta 30-24 Saturday before a raucous, white towel-waving crowd in their first home playoff game in 61 years.
Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan was intercepted twice, was tackled in the end zone for a safety and fumbled the ball away on a botched handoff. The fumble was returned 26 yards by Antrel Rolle 52 seconds into the second half to put Arizona ahead for good.
The Cardinals’ Edgerrin James outgained Atlanta’s Michael Turner, the NFL’s No. 2 rusher.
James, who has made it known he will not be back with the Cardinals next season, carried 16 times for 73 yards. Turner, who rushed for 1,699 yards in the regular season, had 42 yards in 18 attempts.
Warner, in the playoffs for the first time since leading St. Louis to a second Super Bowl in 2001, was 19-of-32, 13-for-17 in the second half, for 271 yards. He was intercepted once.
“I hope this gives us a lot of confidence,” Warner said. “I knew we thought we could win this game. Hopefully we can parlay this into some more confidence and know we can win wherever we have to go.”
Arizona will play at either the New York Giants or Carolina Panthers next weekend. Arizona has played both teams this season, losing 27-23 at Carolina on Oct. 26, and 37-29 at home to the Giants on Nov. 23.
Ryan, the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, completed 26 of 40 passes for 199 yards and two scores.
The Cardinals went 9-7 to win a weak NFC West and make the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
Atlanta (11-5) finished a game behind Carolina in the tough NFC South and came in a winner of five of its last six. But from the start Arizona showed that, at least on this afternoon, it belonged in the postseason.
The Cardinals’ 30 points were their most in the playoffs, breaking a record set by the then-Chicago Cardinals in the NFL championship victory over Philadelphia in 1947. That was the franchise’s last home playoff game before Saturday.
Antonio Smith’s tackle of Ryan for a safety put Arizona ahead 30-17 with 12:37 to play.
The Falcons, who rebounded from a 4-12 season to make the playoffs, made it close after that. On fourth-and-6, Ryan connected with Jerious Norwood for 28 yards to Cardinals 26. That led to Ryan’s 5-yard scoring pass to Roddy White that cut it to 30-24 with 4:15 left.
But Warner completed passes to Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Stephen Spach, then the Cardinals ran out the clock.
When it was over, Arizona’s second-year Ken Whisenhunt ran along the front row of the stadium, exchanging high-fives with fans. The Cardinals didn’t sell out the game until Friday, but the throng was loud and boisterous throughout.
Ryan’s first pass of the playoffs was intercepted by Ralph Brown, leading to Warner’s 42-yard TD to Fitzgerald on a flea-flicker. Early in the second quarter, Warner threw short to Boldin, who beat safety Lawyer Milloy and ran down the sideline on a 71-yard scoring play.
Boldin hurt his left hamstring on the play. He played the next series, then left for good.
The Falcons scored two touchdowns in the final 2:55 to lead 17-14 at the half, but a big early second-half mistake led to Arizona’s go-ahead score.
Ryan’s intended handoff to Turner bounced off the running back’s forearm and into the hands of Rolle, who raced to the end zone to put Arizona ahead 21-17.
The Cardinals mustered their first extended drive of the game later in the third quarter. Moving the ball with James’ running and Warner’s short passes, Arizona used up 7:43, going 76 yards in 14 plays. Warner’s 14-yard pass to Breaston on third-and-3 set up Tim Hightower’s 4-yard run that made it 28-17.
Notes: The Falcons had the ball for 21:19 in the first half, the Cardinals had it for 21:21 in the second. … It was a nice day outside but the Cardinals kept the roof closed at University of Phoenix Stadium. The stadium is far louder with the roof closed. … Each team was without a starting defensive end because of injuries, Jamaal Anderson for Atlanta and Travis LaBoy for Arizona.