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GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Two weeks into the NFL season, only six teams are unbeaten, a number sure to drop when the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals meet on Sunday.
The Eagles and Cardinals are 2-0, each triumphing in heart-thumping fashion to open the season.
Philadelphia, with a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks, became the first team in league history to win its opening two games by one point, surviving nine turnovers, six of them on interceptions thrown by Michael Vick.
Then there’s Arizona, which won its opener 20-16 when Seattle rookie Russell Wilson threw three straight incompletions from the Cardinals’ 4-yard line as the game ended. Last Sunday, the Cardinals went to New England as two-touchdown underdogs and pulled off a 20-18 upset. Arizona outplayed New England most of the game, but a late fumble gave the Patriots a chance at the end, only to have Stephen Gostkowski shank a 42-yard field goal try with 1 second to play.
“That’s just the NFL,” Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb said. “I’ll take it. Anyway we can get it, we’ll take it and keep moving.”
Kolb and Vick provide the game’s intriguing subplot.
Kolb won the starting job for the Eagles in 2010, only to go down with a concussion in the opener. Vick replaced him and has been Philadelphia’s No. 1 quarterback since. Kolb, meanwhile, was traded to Arizona and signed a big contract, only to struggle through an injury-plagued 2011 season, then lose the starting job to John Skelton this preseason.
When Skelton went down with a sprained right ankle in the fourth quarter against Seattle, Kolb came on to direct the winning touchdown drive. Last week in New England, Kolb wasn’t spectacular but threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Andre Roberts and, on an audible called when he saw an opening up the middle, scored what proved to be the winning touchdown on a 5-yard quarterback sneak.
The two quarterbacks have forged a friendship from their days in Philadelphia.
“I think very highly of him,” Kolb said. “I think he’s a heck of a player. People always wonder how we were such good friends because obviously we come from different places and have different playing styles and stuff like that. But he’s a good guy inside and out.”
Vick said he and Kolb “just talk to one another in regards to what’s going on in our day to day lives.”
“We kind of kept football aside from everything we had going on because, at the end of the day, football is not everything,” Vick said. “Kevin and I, we both appreciate our positions, but we appreciate each other more.”
When they haven’t been turning the ball over, the Eagles have been lighting up defenses to the tune of an NFL-best 471 yards per game. Vick has thrown for 688 yards, second only to Eli Manning. He threw for 371 yards, second-most in his career, in last Sunday’s 24-23 win over Baltimore. The Cardinals worry as much about his legs as his arm.
“You definitely want to contain him, keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the ball,” inside linebacker Daryl Washington said.
Washington, second in the league in tackles (23), had 13 against New England, where the stout Cardinals defense harassed Tom Brady all day, usually with a four-man rush. Brady was sacked four times and the normally prolific Patriots didn’t score a touchdown until there was just over four minutes to play. Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton has put together two vastly different game plans in the first two games, leaving it hard to predict what he will throw at the Eagles.
“I think you’d say Ray Horton is one of the better defensive coordinators in the NFL,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. “This guy, week in and week out, puts out a solid front. The numbers don’t lie. He’s good in the red zone, he’s good on the field, everywhere you go. Go and look at his stats. He’s put it together. He’s got a great scheme. He’s got players and the players play hard for him.”
Philadelphia’s defense, in its second season with Juan Castillo as coordinator, has been equally stingy if not more so. The Eagles lead the NFC in giving up 267.5 yards per game.
The change in coordinators since Kolb left doesn’t give him much of an advantage in facing his old team.
“They have a different defense and they’ve changed a lot from last year as well,” he said. “I think most of the advantage is going to be me just talking to the defensive guys and helping them out with the system, but now that I’m a year and a half removed I’m not sure that it’s quite as fresh in my mind as it was.”
Arizona’s Calais Campbell blocked a field goal against Seattle, and Quentin Groves blocked a punt to set up a touchdown against New England. Of course, the Cardinals have one of the top punt returners in the league in Patrick Peterson, who brought four back, all of at least 80 yards, for touchdowns as a rookie last season.
“They’ve got a great special teams group, period,” Reid said. “They’ve got a great returner, and then they know how to block kicks and they know how to block punts, so you better be strong. They’re going to find whatever they figure out is your weakness. They are going to find it, exploit it and attack it. You’ve got to make sure that you are sound in those areas, because they’ve done it better than anybody in this league.”
With Kolb out with a turf toe injury last season, Skelton threw for a career-best 315 yards as Arizona pulled off a 21-17 upset at Philadelphia. The Cardinals harassed Vick into one of his worst games. The Philadelphia quarterback completed 16 of 24 passes for 128 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Eagles, though, were without DeSean Jackson, who caught seven passes for 114 yards against Baltimore.
Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald caught seven or 146 yards in last year’s win, but he had just one catch for 4 yards last Sunday.
“It wasn’t as much what New England did or what we did, it’s just the way the flow of the game goes,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You don’t just say ‘OK, Larry you’re going to catch 10 balls this game. You play your scheme and the ball some games will come to you and some games it won’t. Hopefully he got the one game out of his system where it didn’t.”
The last time the Eagles came to Glendale was in January of 2009, when they lost to Kurt Warner and the Cardinals in the NFC championship game.
The stakes, of course, are nowhere near as high this time, but it’s a big early-season game nonetheless. Philadelphia is looking to go 3-0 for the first time since opening the 2004 season 7-0. The Cardinals, believe it or not, haven’t been 3-0 since the Don Coryell-coached team won its first seven in 1974 — 38 years ago and 14 years before the franchise moved from St. Louis to Arizona.
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