Injury to Skelton puts spotlight, scrutiny back on inconsistent Kolb
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- After coming off the bench midway through the fourth quarter and rallying the Cardinals to a 20-16 win over the favored Seahawks in both teams' season opener Sunday, Kevin Kolb showed more humility than hubris.
He could've stuck out his chest and expressed a belief that he should've been on the field from the beginning, not backing up inconsistent third-year quarterback John Skelton. He also could've pointed out that teams don't typically strip a QB of his starting job one year after surrendering a second-round draft choice, a young Pro Bowl cornerback and a potential $63 million contract to acquire the player.
However, Kolb said none of this. He looked as comfortable in his current situation as he did in his attire, moving through the locker room in blue jeans and flip-flops. "Having gone through the same thing with Philly two years ago, that whole experience really helped me," he said. "I didn't expect to lose my job after only four starts with the Eagles. It was frustrating but I learned to stay positive and trust in the Lord. I didn't sulk during the week. I tried to stay right and had a good week of practice. I figured I would get another chance. I just didn't expect it to happen this quickly."
The question now is whether that opportunity will be taken from him almost as quickly as it was provided. Skelton is expected to miss at least two weeks after spraining his right ankle late in Sunday's win, and Ken Whisenhunt was evasive when asked what happens with the starting job when Skelton is healthy. The organization would love nothing more than to see Kolb step up and realize the potential it saw when it made the trade to get him. Why not say it?
For one, no one knows how Kolb is going to respond. Will he remain as cool and efficient as he was during his only series Sunday, when after a 17-yard completion by Skelton, he came on and moved the offense 68 yards in four minutes, completing six of his final seven passes, the last a six-yard toss to Andre Roberts for the decisive touchdown? Or will he revert to the inconsistent, injury-prone signal-caller who lost six consecutive starts in his first season with the Cardinals?
Another reason could be that Whisenhunt doesn't want Kolb to get too comfortable, a sentiment that was touched on by safety Adrian Wilson following the game. He had been asked to describe how humbling the demotion was for Kolb going into the season. Responded Wilson: "I hope it was very humbling for him. I hope he understands what he has to do from this point forward. He has to play with that same type of edge all the time. It's not something that you do sometimes. It's an all-the-time thing. He had an OK preseason and didn't win the job, so now he has something to prove. There's a different level of 'want to.' So I hope it was very humbling for him."
In private, Wilson has been one of Kolb's biggest supporters. So has defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. After Skelton was named the starter heading into the opener, each veteran went to Kolb and spoke to him about staying positive. They acted out of selfishness as much as empathy for a teammate.
"Me being in the league for eight or nine years, I'm not dumb," Dockett said. "I knew his phone would ring at some point and we'd need him again. When you have leaders and captains down on you, it takes away all of your confidence. I wanted to be one of those guys who supported him even at his lowest, because when that time came for him to play again, even if others didn't believe in him, he could look at certain leaders and certain playmakers and know that they've got his back. That means a lot."
Kolb's first throw was inauspicious. Pro Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald got free in an opening down the sideline but the ball sailed high and long, out of bounds. The boos that had greeted Kolb's jog onto the field suddenly grew louder. But the former Eagle found Fitzgerald on the left side for 14 yards on his next attempt, then for 23 more two passes later. That began a run of five consecutive completions, the last to Roberts for the score with 4:59 to play.
The 6-of-8, 66-yard performance was what the Cardinals anticipated getting from Kolb after they included cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a No. 2 pick in the trade package. Directing a no-huddle attack, he looked poised and confident. The ball came out with authority and accuracy. "He just got in rhythm and ripped some balls in there," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "We were all over every one of those throws. He is a gunslinger, he has always been like that. He just came in and was shooting from the hip and did a great job."
That begs the question of whether Arizona will stick with a hurry-up mode of attack.
"The interesting thing is, when Kurt [Warner] was here they were pretty high tempo," Kolb said. "So it's bred into our team and our coaching staff and something we like to do. I did it throughout high school and college, so it comes naturally to me. To be honest, the O-line and the receivers respond well to it as well. We'll see what happens from here on out. We can't do it every possession, obviously, but it's something we can lean on a little more."
Whether this is a new beginning for Kolb remains to be seen. For much of his one-plus seasons with the Cardinals he has felt snake-bitten. Last year he started only nine games because of foot and concussion issues. Then his first pass in the preseason was picked off, his second drive ended with a three-and-out and his third series resulted in him being knocked from the game against the Saints with a rib injury. Later in camp he had to leave practice with a thigh bruise. The starting job was his to lose, and he lost it.
Now he has it back, though it's unclear for how long. His opening assignment is at New England, where the Cardinals have been outscored 78-17 in their past two appearances (47-7 in 2008, and 31-0 in 1996). The Patriots defense was impressive in a Week 1 trip to Nashville, limiting the Titans to just one touchdown and 284 yards in a 34-13 victory. Arizona knows what it is up against, but it also knows that Kolb doesn't have to go in believing it's all on his shoulders.
"I've never been against any quarterback that we've had," Dockett said Sunday. "My biggest thing is, just don't lose it for us. That's my only emphasis. I'm not asking you to go out there and be 16 for 19 for 300 yards. I'm just asking you to go out there and, if you're scrambling, don't try to throw it between two people. Slide or throw it away, and we'll punt and get after it on the series. That's all I'm asking for."
At the same time Kolb knows that safe doesn't necessarily translate into success. In this age of the passing game, a quarterback has to make plays when presented the opportunity. And yet there is a fine line between being aggressive and being wreckless.
"Adrian tells me that all the time," Kolb said of his teammate. "He's one of the ones who's always in my corner. He sees what I've got. Adrian plays with a fearlessness, and it's something I can learn from. I know what I can do when I play in that manner, now I've just got to go out and do it."