Kolb the Cards’ only hope now, in near future

TEMPE, Ariz. – At the risk of stating the obvious, the Cardinals need quarterback Kevin Kolb to play. Now. Not to save the season; that’s already gone. To save morale. To save coach Ken Whisenhunt’s job. To keep alive whatever shred of hope remains for this franchise.

We have no idea how much pain Kolb is still experiencing. He just smiles and repeats the same vague answers when we ask. We’ve never had ribs detach from our sternum, and we’re pretty sure we never want to experience it in the interest of building our knowledge base.

We also have no idea if Kolb will be ready this week.

“I sure hope so,” Whisenhunt said at his Monday press conference.

After watching Ryan Lindley on Sunday, can we get an amen?

We’re not suggesting Kolb should come back if the body isn’t willing. We don’t pretend to understand another person’s pain threshold or the inherent risks of such a move.

But in case you hadn’t noticed, the Cardinals have lost eight straight games. The NFC West is leaving them in the dust, and there is real danger that the local attitude toward this team is about to go full-blown retro. We, the people, are ready to conclude that those two years of Kurt Warner-orchestrated magic were a statistical anomaly for a franchise that has resumed business as usual.

We have suggested in the past that the Cards need to see Kolb this season to evaluate whether they want to go forward with him, especially considering he’s due to make about $10 million next season.

But in poring over what looks to be a quarterback-weak 2013 draft class and in glancing at the underwhelming crop of potential free agents, we’re not sure there will be a better option available than Kolb. Maybe the Cardinals make a call to the 49ers to see if they’d be crazy enough to trade Alex Smith to a division opponent. Maybe Alex Smith will be the 49ers’ starting quarterback again by the time the phone rings – especially if Colin Kaepernick has another game in which he looks like what he is: a second-year quarterback.

Besides, remember how good it felt when Kolb played earlier this season? Remember the buzz in the Valley? Remember how we were all talking playoffs? Playoffs! And now the Cardinals are just trying to win a game.

That’s the problem with Kolb, of course. Just when you think he’s in a groove, he dons a ballcap on the sidelines with a head, foot or chest injury. Is that because he’s injury-prone? We don’t know. We know what the vast majority of folks out there think, but we also know what rigorous, time-tested scientific methodology would say about basing your conclusions on a handful of examples.

Maybe Kolb is cursed, which would make sense with this franchise. But if the Cards can rework that hefty sum he’s due to make next season – and they should be able to, because who else is going to make a part-time QB a big-money offer? – Kolb is their guy going forward, for better or for worse.

As many issues as the offensive line has had, as many injuries as the running backs have suffered and as many times as you’ve taken Mike Miller’s name in vain, this league comes down to quarterback play.

Warner masked deficiencies because of his superlative ability to read defenses quickly and execute plays with elite accuracy. Aaron Rodgers has the league’s highest passer rating and the Packers in first place behind an offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked a league-high 39 times. Bears QB Jay Cutler never garnered much respect until the nation saw what his line looked like with Jason Campbell standing behind it.

We all get it now.

Take a look at the Cardinals’ own division. The 49ers may have two legitimate quarterbacks, making them, in our view, the only team in the league that can say that. And where are they? In contention for a Super Bowl.

Seattle rookie Russell Wilson just led two late drives at Soldier Field against one of the league’s best defenses, putting the Seahawks in position for a wild-card berth. Even St. Louis has clawed back to within a half-game of .500 thanks to a 4-0-1 record in the division, terrific defense and the improved play of QB Sam Bradford.

Take a look at the 12 teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today. Eight have QBs ranked in the top 10 in passer rating. That’s no coincidence, people.

Sitting at No. 14 in those same rankings, after all this time, is Kolb with an 86.1 rating. He’s still the best chance the Cardinals have, and he’s better than a whole lot of other teams’ options.

Is it crazy to go into a season with a guy who’s missed about half his Cardinals tenure? Sure, it’s crazy. But there are descending degrees of crazy. And we can all agree that Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton and a rookie are much farther down the insanity slope.
Besides, as we mentioned before, the options are severely limited. So get well, Kevin. A coach, a franchise and a city are on hanging on your every labored breath.

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