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Cardinal Virtue


The obvious thing to do in deconstructing Kevin Kolb's performance during the Cardinals' 24--21 victory over the Dolphins on Sunday would be to point to his perfectly placed 15-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in regulation, or to run a highlighter over his critical 10-yard, third-down conversion to Early Doucet that preceded Jay Feely's game-winning 46-yard field goal in overtime.

But important as those moments were in the stunning comeback, Kolb's resurrection can best be demonstrated by the things he did not do—like concerning himself with self-preservation after being sacked three times in the first half, or repeatedly forcing balls to Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, as he'd too often done, lacking confidence elsewhere.

Those realities, as much as anything, speak to why the Cardinals, off to their first 4--0 start since 1974, can feel confident they've found the long-term quarterback solution they were seeking last off-season when they traded for Kolb and signed him to a deal worth up to $63 million. For the first sustained stretch since he arrived in Arizona, Kolb appears at ease with the offense and his role in it.

"I see a huge difference from last year," says Cardinals tight end Todd Heap. "He's more comfortable with the plays we're running, and coaches are better at knowing what he's good at. It's a combination."

Kolb's first year in the desert was a disaster. After a season-opening win, he lost six straight starts and then missed seven games with a toe injury and concussion symptoms. His struggles adapting to new terminology and a new scheme—from Andy Reid's West Coast offense to Ken Whisenhunt's Coryell attack, with its deeper routes and larger receiver groupings—combined with poor pass protection resulted in his too often aborting plays before they had a chance to develop.

When there appeared to be no improvement this preseason, Whisenhunt awarded the starting job to John Skelton, as the lesser of two evils. But Kolb has been a different player since he took over for an injured Skelton midway through the fourth quarter of the season opener. Kolb rallied Arizona to the decisive touchdown in that game, against the Seahawks, and in subsequent wins over the Patriots and Eagles he threw three touchdowns and had just one turnover, a fumble.

Sunday was the first time since last December against Dallas that the Cardinals put a game on Kolb's shoulders from the outset. With starting running back Beanie Wells on modified IR due to a severe turf toe and second-year back Ryan Williams facing a Miami defense that ranked No. 1 against the run, Kolb had to make plays through the air. He finished 29 of 48 for 324 yards and three scores with two picks, only one of which was his fault.

Best of all, Kolb rarely fled the pocket to abandon plays. (If that meant eight sacks on the day, so be it.) "He's showing toughness," says QB coach John McNulty. "He came off the field after the interception the same way he came off after the touchdown that tied it. He's right here." McNulty runs a level hand though the air. "He doesn't get too high or too low."

And with that coolness has come confidence in the Cardinals' system. "In the past there was a missed run check, a missed protection check, people on the wrong side of the formation—whatever; plays didn't have a chance before they started," says McNulty. "But now he's got a pretty good feel for the whole protection scheme."

After the Week 1 victory, in a game that the Arizona defense had kept alive, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett offered faint praise and a plea to the QB: Just don't lose games. In his first two starts Kolb showed he could handle that assignment. On Sunday, in a game in which his defense allowed 480 yards of total offense, he showed that he could handle the winning part, too.

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CUE TOUCHDOWN AND ... FIN Kolb's heroics in the final reel have punished the Seahawks, Patriots and, last week, the Dolphins.