For a moment, forget New Orleans' tumultuous offseason and their questionable defense.
Forget the lesser known "Skelton Mania" and Arizona's 7-2 too-little-too-late finish after opening 2011 a meager 1-6.
Forget everything up until preseason action finally commenced this past Sunday night...or could we?
After forcing and recovering a fumble on the previous drive, the Cardinals had a prime opportunity at the Saints' 7 yard line with 1:52 remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the Hall of Fame Game at 17-all and potentially send Canton to overtime.
Then Ryan Lindley thew an interception at the 1 yard line to linebacker Lawrence Wilson, who returned it 46 yards and proceeded to run out of bounds. The victory was sustained, and Arizona was neither an upset special nor clutch (if either are appropriate titles in early August).
The deciding turnover
occurred on a third down pass play intended for Tre Gray, the undrafted receiver out of Richmond who managed to record zero receptions from his three targets throughout the contest. Gray was set in motion before the snap, but if that didn't prove to be enough indication that he would be the rookie quarterback's first and only read, then the fact that Lindley stared him down through his release of the football surely gave it away.
Wilson certainly caught on, as he sat in zone coverage and undercut the route near the goal line.
The Cardinals' quarterback battle heading into the season has been deemed so wide open that the apparent third-stringer coming out of San Diego State was rumored to be included in the competition with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. As expected from a sixth-round draftee, Lindley looked inconsistent, throwing for 118 yards on just 10-for-21 passing, but he fought and drove his offense 67 yards into red zone in the last meaningful minutes.
He completed passes of 19, 10, and 14 yards to fellow rookie LaRon Byrd before connecting with tight end
Steve "Namesake" Skelton for 24 yards to reach the 7. Conversely, the chemistry simply wasn't there with Gray during the drive.
In the end, Lindley anxiously and inaccurately forced the tying touchdown score and reaped his rookie woes. Between that and financial burden Kolb's 1-4 for 4 yards, an initial interception and merciful chest injury, the starting job should belong to Skelton if based upon this game (a poised 4-6 for 32 yards) and last year's intangible impact. He gives the Cardinals' offense their best chance to succeed temporarily.
As for New Orleans, the defense deserves credit for the first time in recent memory. Second-year linebacker Martez Wilson smartly interpreted the play and cashed in on the interception.
He finished the contest with three tackles and a pass deflected, showcased his athleticism by hurdling Thomas Clayton during the return. and most importantly, he maturely
ran out of bounds to secure the triumph rather than surrendering to the youthful temptation of a pick-six. Maturity has been scarce from top to bottom of the Saints' organization as of late.
If this performance maintains itself, Wilson could find himself within the regualr season rotation of linebackers counter-weighing the absence of the suspended Jonathan Vilma.
If reports are indeed false and Roger Goodell doesn't reduce Vilma's season-long sentence in the impeding lawsuit of alleged defamation of character - and that becomes a question of whether he cherishes his own image or that of the NFL more - then at least the Saints have so far portrayed the prospective depth necessary to suffice.
Perhaps New Orleans has the talent to overcome Bounty Gate in the NFC after all...so long as they face Arizona every single week. It's preseason - no need to get carried away. Wait until San Francisco vists in Week 12...