Arizona looks for cure for fumble fever
The Arizona Cardinals are searching for a cure for fumble fever.
The virus spread through the Arizona offense Monday night, when five lost fumbles led to an embarrassing 23-9 loss at San Francisco.
Five players fumbled - running backs Tim Hightower, Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling; wide receiver Anquan Boldin; and quarterback Kurt Warner.
Warner was intercepted twice. That makes seven turnovers in a game that, had Arizona won, would have clinched the NFC West title for the Cardinals. Arizona actually fumbled seven times, but managed to recover two of them.
``When we stink, we stink really bad,'' wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. ``It's not like one turnover or two turnovers, we've got to go for the gusto and do it six or seven times.''
Still, Fitzgerald noted, the team had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. Fittingly, though, with Arizona down by eight, Wells fumbled the ball away on the Cardinals 16-yard line. Game over.
``There were a couple of times we were careless with the football and then some other times they just made great plays and were right there to capitalize on them,'' Warner said. ``Like I said, you have those games sometimes. We have had them here before. The whole key is to not let it become a habit.''
Three of the Monday night culprits are youngsters. Hightower is in his second pro season, Wells and Stephens-Howling are rookies.
They experienced what Fitzgerald called the loneliness of walking off the field after fumbling the ball away.
``You feel like everybody's eyes are on you, and really they are,'' he said. ``You're the guy who's to blame for it, and it's really a terrible feeling.''
To see how important turnovers are, look at the Cardinals' record in coach Ken Whisenhunt's nearly three seasons: 20-1 when they win the turnover battle, 2-18 when they lose it.
With its Monday night giveaway, Arizona rocketed into the lead in fumbles lost in the NFL this season with 15.
``It doesn't matter how well you run the ball or how well you throw the ball or how well you protect the quarterback,'' Whisenhunt said, ``if you're going to fumble the football and turn it over, you're not going to win games. ... We have to make sure that we nip that in the bud.''
The Cardinals went through ball security drills this week, as they do each week, and hope their display of charity by the bay was a one-game blip.
They can clinch their second straight division title if they win Sunday in Detroit and San Francisco loses at Philadelphia.
Hightower was particularly troubled. For the second game in a row, he fumbled the ball away deep in Arizona territory, leading to an early touchdown for the opponent. The Cardinals regrouped to beat Minnesota 30-17 but just kept piling up the mistakes in San Francisco.
``You've got to try to put it behind but you've also got to learn from it, too,'' Hightower said after Thursday's practice. ``If you don't take a real close look at what you're doing wrong and try to find out what's going on, you'll be careless and it will happen again. In my case, it's happened a lot more times than I would have ever expected.''
Hightower has fumbled five times this season, and four of them were recovered by the opposition. Wells has fumbled four times, and Arizona lost two of them.
Running backs can't let worry about losing their grip on the ball temper their aggressiveness, though.
``If you start second-guessing yourself, then it takes away from what you have as a running back, which is pretty much instinct,'' Hightower said.
He acknowledged that some turnovers are inevitable. San Francisco's Dashon Goldson made great plays to knock the ball loose in both the Hightower and Wells fumbles Monday night; Patrick Willis stripped the ball from Stephens-Howling and Warner's arm was hit from behind by Ahmad Brooks just as the quarterback was preparing to pass.
``They get paid, too. They're in the NFL for a reason as well,'' Hightower said. ``But with that being said, one time OK, two times maybe, but in my case I don't know however many times it's been - especially two games in row - when the team's counting on you in big games, you've got to find a way.''
No matter what?
``I don't care if he gets a great hit on it, I've got to find a way,'' he said. ``That's my team. That's what they count on me to do.''