GLENDALE, Ariz. — Adrian Wilson had an agenda when he reached the postgame podium Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I want to talk about Kevin Kolb,” Wilson said. “Let’s talk about how poetic that was.”
Those who watched the entirety of the Cardinals’ 20-16 victory over the Seahawks might have chosen a different term. But Kolb’s relief effort in place of injured starter John Skelton was both redemption for his Week 1 demotion and testament to a player who never lost faith in his abilities.
“It was pretty special. I’m not going to lie,” said Kolb, who entered the game in the fourth quarter and completed 6 of 8 passes for 66 yards and what proved to be a game-winning 6-yard touchdown pass to Andre Roberts with about five minutes to play.
“The thing I said all along is, ‘Trust in God’s plan,’ and that’s the one way I stayed up and stayed focused.”
The Cardinals knew they would need Kolb at some point this season. They just never imagined it would happen in Week 1. Following an up-and-down performance that was trending downward in the second half when he only managed one first down, Skelton sustained a right ankle injury that coach Ken Whisenhunt believes is just a high-ankle sprain that could sideline him four to six weeks.
“Preliminary tests indicate there is no fracture,” Whisenhunt said. “We will have a better idea on severity and potential time loss in the next day or so.”
It was a cruel twist of fate for the former fifth-round pick from Fordham, who battled Kolb throughout the preseason to win the starting job only to lose it after three-plus quarters of his first game.
“We wanted John to have the opportunity to go out there and play. To have it end like that is terrible,” left guard Daryn Colledge said. “But Kevin’s a pro. He was in a situation where he thought he was going to be starting a couple weeks ago, so he was prepared to start and play.”
By now, every NFL fan knows Kolb’s back story. The Cardinals gave up 2009 Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick before the 2011 season to land the guy they hoped would be their franchise quarterback. Then they gave Kolb a five-year extension worth as much as $63 million.
Kolb’s struggles last season were attributed to the lack of an offseason with which to learn the offense as well as head and foot injuries that sidelined him for about half the season. His struggles this preseason had no such excuses. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket, threw three interceptions and convinced the coaching staff that no amount of investment was worth throwing him out there in Week 1.
When he came out in the fourth quarter to a chorus of boos, Kolb missed receiver Larry Fitzgerald down the sideline on his first pass, and the stadium responded by letting out a collective groan. But Kolb was efficient and poised thereafter while working out of the no-huddle offense.
“When we get into that no-huddle, it just seems with our team, whoever the quarterback is seems to jell pretty good,” said Kolb, whose passes had noticeable zip. “Everybody looked confident, and as soon as we hit a couple of them, we got the (defense) tired and started rolling.
“To win a game in that fashion, the way the preseason went, I’ll definitely enjoy it this evening and tomorrow and then get back to work.”
Had the Kolb script gone according to prior readings, the pass to Roberts would never have been launched. Just before the snap, Whisenhunt was running down the sideline and desperately trying to signal for timeout with the play clock running down, but the officials didn’t see him.
“Thank God for small favors, right?” Whisenhunt said.
In this case, Kolb did his team a big favor. After blowing a 13-3 lead and falling behind 16-13, the Cards looked destined for a season-opening loss and Whisenhunt looked destined for more questions about his ability to evaluate quarterbacks and his ability to turn this team around.
In one quick-paced drive, Kolb erased all that. He also erased any notion that the team favors Skelton over him when several players celebrated wildly with him after the TD.
“I just got chills,” Kolb said. “It means a lot.”
Maybe it was just the spark this team needed to meet a city’s and owner’s lofty expectations. Maybe it was just the spark Kolb needed to end this franchise’s 3-year-old hunger for a QB.
Maybe this much-panned trade can pan out after all.