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Wilson focused on Super road to redemption

Michael Silver
Yahoo Sports

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Adrian Wilson(notes) has seen the replay countless times, and he understands that the call was irrevocable. But that doesn't mean that the Arizona Cardinals' Pro Bowl strong safety has accepted that Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Santonio Holmes'(notes) game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII last February was legitimate.

"That last play was so controversial, and it left so much doubt in your mind," Wilson recalled Tuesday as he geared up for Sunday's first-round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at University of the Phoenix Stadium. "That doubt just clouds your judgment. It was cloudy from the beginning. I'm not convinced he was out [of bounds]. I'm not convinced he was in. I still don't know."

Even more frustrating to Wilson was the fact that, on Ben Roethlisberger's(notes) fateful throw that vaulted the Steelers to victory with 35 seconds remaining, he wasn't in position to get a view of Holmes' sideline grab – or, possibly, to break it up. With Wilson patrolling the opposite side of the end zone, Holmes eluded Cardinals defensive backs Aaron Francisco(notes), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(notes) and Aaron Brown before flashing open in the corner.

As Wilson prepares to mount a defense of the Cardinals' first NFC title – and, he hopes, a redemptive Super Bowl triumph – Holmes' catch still haunts him, as does Pittsburgh's 78-yard scoring drive in its totality.

"As a competitor, you wish you were over there to try to make that play," Wilson said. "It was a devastating loss, because we were in position to close out the game, and we couldn't get that one stop. Every guy that was out there for that drive – we've got to live with it."

By all rights Wilson, the Cards' 30-year-old defensive leader, should have a clear conscience, having completed another stellar season. Last month the ninth-year veteran was selected as a Pro Bowl starter for the second consecutive year – his third berth overall – after intercepting a career-high five passes, recovering two fumbles, forcing another fumble and defending 13 passes. He also had two sacks and 75 tackles and injected the full force of his 6-foot-3, 226-pound frame into opponents on a consistent basis.

If the NFC West champion Cardinals (10-6) are able to capture their first Super Bowl title, no one will derive more satisfaction upon hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. As Arizona's longest-tenured player, Wilson remembers the dark days: In his first seven seasons, the team went 40-72 and fired two head coaches.

"It was just very frustrating," said Wilson, a third-round draft pick out of North Carolina State in 2001. "We just couldn't compete talent-wise. You can have the greatest coach in the world, but if you don't have talent, you're not going to win. I wanted to be a part of turning a team around, but the question I had to ask myself was, 'Do you have the time to do it?' Careers are short, and it took a while to build something."

Yet unlike some of his peers, Wilson resisted the allure of unrestricted free agency. The studious and explosive safety signed a contract extension in December 2004, shortly before he'd have been eligible to hit the market, and re-upped again last June for a reported $39 million over five years.

"I'm 100 percent loyal," Wilson said. "I'm not going to turn my back on the Cardinals or the people who put their name out there for me. When guys go somewhere else for money or to be the main guy, it doesn't always work out. We've got a great thing here."

Teammates like star quarterback Kurt Warner(notes) were overjoyed.

"Adrian is the heart and soul of our defense," Warner said Thursday night. "He brings toughness, versatility and playmaking – but most importantly his play drives and inspires the rest of our team. He leads with his play, whether it is a sack on a blitz, a big hit or an interception. He is a momentum-changer and an irreplaceable part of our team, because God doesn’t make them like Adrian very often."

After Wilson re-signed last summer, linebacker Karlos Dansby(notes) spoke of his teammate's value to the Arizona Republic, saying, "He's been a huge example, man. He paved the way for us. He's been here the longest, and he's just shown us how to get it done and how to get it done the right way."

For the Cardinals to get it done against the Packers (11-5), they'll have to upgrade their performance from last Sunday's regular-season finale. In a meeting with Green Bay that turned out to be relatively meaningless – by kickoff, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt and Green Bay counterpart Mike McCarthy knew their teams were locked into a first-round rematch in the desert – the Pack pounded the Cards 33-7.

It was reminiscent of the two teams' preseason game in August, when Green Bay built a 38-10 halftime lead and held on for a victory after both coaches pulled their starters. On each occasion the Packers seemed to employ an aggressive gameplan while the Cardinals appeared intent on revealing as little as possible.

"It was unfortunate the way [Sunday's game] played out," Wilson said. "They took the game as them proving to us that they can beat us, and for us I guess that's motivation.

"They have a very unique offense – they're a West Coast offense but they also take shots down the field and open you up with formations. They kind of used formations to dictate what they wanted us to do. They would say they came out and ran their offense. They wanted to see how we'd adjust to certain looks. We're not an 'over' front team; they did a lot of things to put us in 'over' and see how our outside linebackers would play that."

View photo

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Wilson helps take down Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck.
(Steve Dykes/US Presswire)

The Cardinals stayed vanilla on defense, rarely sending extra pass-rushers at Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes) – something likely to change on Sunday, with Wilson playing a key role. Late last month Wilson, an effective blitzer, became the 10th player in NFL history to join the "20/20 Club," with 23 interceptions and 20½ sacks in his career. He'll spend much of Sunday engaging in mental warfare with Rodgers, the Pack's savvy and prolific quarterback – but he won't shy away from injecting a little brute force into the proceedings.

Wilson, who during the '08 season was warned by the NFL that because of previous personal fouls and fines he could be docked $50,000 and receive a one-game suspension for his next offense, hasn't abandoned his hard-hitting mentality. In the season-opening defeat to the San Francisco 49ers he delivered an emphatic head shot to tight end Vernon Davis(notes), incurring an unnecessary-roughness penalty (and later a $10,000 fine).

Has the threat of discipline impacted the way he approaches his job? "Nah, I wouldn't say it changed," Wilson insisted. "I'm a little bit more aware of when to take shots, as opposed to when not to. If I have a chance either to hype up my team or to set the tone for a game, I'll do what I have to do. It's something you've got to do to try to lead your team."

And if Wilson can somehow lead the Cardinals to a Super Bowl title – well, perhaps then he can finally stop sweating Holmes' touchdown catch and the replay review he still hasn't accepted as legitimate.

TAKE IT TO THE ATM

Led by a big game from Carson Palmer(notes), the Bengals will get things started Saturday by showing their resolve in the rematch with the Jets, giving their fans the playoff party they envisioned four years ago. … The Eagles offense will awaken at Cowboys Stadium Saturday night, but Tony Romo(notes) will outduel Donovan McNabb(notes) and lead Dallas to a dramatic victory. … Spurred by a touchdown from safety Ed Reed(notes), the Ravens will grind out an ugly victory over the Patriots on Sunday.

PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …

Arizona, where I can see two teams I've been high on all season, the Packers and Cardinals, battle it out in a playoff game that could launch a Super Bowl run.

LIES, LIES, LIES

1. In a sterling endorsement for Jeremy Bates as a prospective choice to replace fired Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner, Jay Cutler(notes) described his former quarterbacks coach with the Broncos as "The Master."

2. When told that suspended Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas had tried to explain away a gun-pulling incident in the locker room as a "joke on a teammate", former Giants wideout Plaxico Burress(notes) responded, "That's so funny I forgot to laugh."

3. After testing his knee in a strenuous conditioning session Monday, Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco(notes) declared that he would change his name to Chad Seisnueve.

OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE

Each year around this time, I'm amused to read comments from players on struggling teams declaring their support for the embattled, incumbent coach. Usually, these players are merely answering questions from people in my business – and, unless it's an off-the-record conversation, I have no idea why we even bother asking. I mean, let's be realistic. Say someone with a microphone or a notebook came and asked you to comment publicly on your boss. Imagine that you're not a huge fan of your boss, personally or professionally (I know this is a real stretch for some of you), and that you're hoping the rumors floating around the office of his/her impending ouster are true. Would you tell the truth? Of course you wouldn't, at least not in this economy. And you wouldn't dodge the question or say, "No comment," either, because that in and of itself would be taken as a slight. So you'd do what the Raiders who were asked about Tom Cable, or the Browns who were asked about Eric Mangini, or the Bears who were asked about Lovie Smith did. While some of the players who advocated for those coaches' continued employment were undoubtedly speaking from the heart, others were holding their brown noses upon seeing the comments in print. How can we be sure about this? Watch what happens when a coach gets fired. By the next summer's training camp, you'll see quotes from several former players heralding the change in leadership – and, thus, kissing up to the new boss.

LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …

Jets owner Woody Johnson, whose daughter, Casey, died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 30. My thoughts and prayers are with the Johnson family.

THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

This was supposed to be a short, upbeat tribute to the Cal men's basketball team, the preseason favorites to win the Pac-10. The Bears were off to a great start, having won their conference opener last Saturday over Stanford in a 92-66 laugher, and on Wednesday hosted the worst UCLA team they have seen (or will see) in my lifetime. Cal opened up a 12-point lead in the first half, fooled around and let the Bruins stay in the game – and lost, 76-75, in overtime after Michael Roll picked up a deflected pass and knocked down a 13-foot jumper with 1.9 seconds remaining. So no, this is not a tribute. This is a call to the Bears' senior-dominated team to seize an opportunity: To win the school's first conference title in 50 years, in a decidedly down year for the Pac-10. That will require grit, determination and a sense of urgency, none of which Cal seemed to display on Wednesday. An embattled USC team is coming to Haas Pavilion on Saturday, and the Bears need to play that game – and the remaining 15 conference contests – like their season depends on it. I believe that coach Mike Montgomery, one of the best in the business, will get his players to that motivational level. He has his work cut out for him.

YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK

Benson goodbye

ROLLIN' WITH THE ROYALS

In a performance that evoked memories of Reading's stirring maiden season in the English Premier League three years ago, the Royals battled mighty Liverpool to a 1-1 draw at sold out Madejski Stadium in the third round of the FA Cup last Saturday, forcing a replay at Anfield this Wednesday. If Reading can steal a victory there (or, in the event of another draw, prevail in penalty kicks) it will advance to host Burnley in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 23. The Royals scored first off a set piece 24 minutes in: Ryan Bertrand's free kick sent Reds keeper Pepe Reina scrambling to the back post, and Grzegorz Rasiak squeezed it back across the six-yard box. Then 21-year-old Welsh striker Simon Church – who, a few days later, would sign a contract extension that will keep him with the club through 2013 – finished beautifully, bundling home from a yard out. Liverpool equalized 12 minutes later when England national team stalwart Steven Gerrard sent a gorgeous cross toward teammate Dirk Kuyt, who dove vainly at the ball. However, Kuyt's dive threw off Royals keeper Adam Federici and Gerrard's cross bounced into the corner of the net. Reading continued to force the action while holding off the powerful Reds attack, even after Federici went down with a hamstring injury midway through the second half. Backup keeper Ben Hamer, in only his third appearance with the club, denied Liverpool striker Fernando Torres on a terrific diving save in the final minutes. The Royals' spry effort impressed Reds centre half (and former English national team stalwart) Jamie Carragher, who said afterward, "They're not doing too well in the league but all the credit and praise should go to Reading, it was a very tough game and towards the end I was just made up that we didn't lose it because they had a few set pieces. I'm delighted to take them back to Anfield." Before Wednesday's rematch the Royals, still only two points above the relegation line in the Football League Championship table, were to host first-place Newcastle United – but Saturday's match at Madejski was postponed because of massive snowfall and ice on the grounds and in the surrounding area.

LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK

As I wrote last May, Joshua Cribbs(notes) is a bitter Brown. Upset because the Eric Mangini regime failed to honor the promises of a renegotiated deal Cribbs said were made by owner Randy Lerner, the all-purpose threat put aside his anger, put his head down and went out and had a Pro Bowl season. Now there's a new sheriff in Cleveland – and Mike Holmgren, in his first week on the job, is low-balling the running back/receiver/kick returner, who says he has had it with the Browns. Bravo, Big Show. All of this is worthy of a rebuke of Lerner's leadership, via a send-up of Lauryn Hill's "Lost Ones", with Salty No. 16 on the mic.

It's funny how money change a situation
Miscommunication leads to complication
My fair compensation don't fit your equation
I was on the humble, you were on vacation
Some wan' play Joshua like he dumb
Make me wanna be like Gilbert and grab my gun
You're the worst owner, why you think you ain't won?
Sellin' out Cleveland to run to Aston
Now you gonna give me Mike Holmgren?
That tired West Coast Offense he gon' run
Don't want to line me up in the shotgun
Me the QB? Now that would be fun
Sicker than dudes on Playstation
My agent call, you're all, "Dude, be patient"
Now we're gonna brawl – time for separation
Couldn't handle a renegotiation
Who you gon' lowball, like you the champion
You might win some but you just lost one

You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one

Now, now how come your talk turn cold? Like Kokinis you'll just do what you're told
Swallowed your lies that he'd have full control
Met Dawgpound Mike, what a sight to behold
Ten mil for Holmgren? Now give me my gold
Treatin' me like I'm 13 years old
Mangini want to act like he's exempt
Him need to get down on his knees and repent
Can't slick talk on the day of judgment
His movement's similar to a serpent
Actin' like he was Bill Belichick
Consequence is he's gotta boot-lick
Hypocrites always want to play innocent
You were whispering but you said what you meant
Honoring that promise was not your intent
Assume the position – now it's time for punishment
I know that you don't wanna hear my opinion
But there come many paths and I must choose one
And when I play you then revenge gon' come
See you might win some but you just lost one

You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one

You might win some but you really lost one
You just lost one, it's so silly how come
When it's all done did you really gain from
What you done done, it's so silly how come
You just lost one

Now don't you understand man universal law What you throw out comes back to you, fraud
Never underestimate those who you scar
Cause karma, karma, karma comes back to you hard
You can't hold Joshua back that long
The Steel Curtain wasn't made that strong
Trying to pretend like your word is your bond
But until you do right, all you do will go wrong
Now some might mistake this for just a simple song
And some don't know what they have 'til it's gone
Now soon I will be gone and then I'll be reborn
And, from the night can arrive the sweet dawn
Now, some might listen and some might shun
And some may worship at the feet of Holmgren
If you're a true fan you'll hate what we've become
Cause you might win some but you just lost one

You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one

You might win some but you really lost one
You just lost one, it's so silly how come
When it's all done did you really gain from
What you done done, it so silly how come
You just lost one
You just lost one …