SEATTLE — For all the world, it looked and felt like a changing of the guard.
An Arizona team full of vigor and youth — aside from its 37-year-old quarterback — swaggered into Seattle and dominated the team it needs to beat to get to the top of the NFC West Division.
“What we have done today speaks for itself,” Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin said of Arizona’s 26-20 NFL victory Sunday at Qwest Field. “To come up here and beat the NFC West champion for the last four years, we came through here and took care of business.”
It isn’t a done deal quite yet, but it would take a collapse matching that of the economy to keep Arizona from its first division title in 33 years.
The Cardinals are 7-3 and have a four-game lead over San Francisco (3-7), with Seattle and St. Louis at 2-8. Arizona is 4-0 in the division and won in Seattle for the first time since 2002.
“I would not say that we have done everything that we needed to in the division,” said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whose interception with two minutes to go sealed the victory. “But this is a really big step for us to come in here and get a win.”
Don’t be fooled by the final score.
The Cardinals owned this game, outgaining Seattle 458-196 in total yards.
Only their turnovers kept it from being a rout as the Seahawks had to drive only 19, 11, and 14 yards for their three touchdowns.
“This is a huge win, not only because we came out and played well, but the significance of this win for us at this point in the season,” ageless quarterback Kurt Warner said. “A lot of things were riding on this game so it was huge.”
The Cardinals’ postseason history is so bleak that it fits on one page of their media guide.
Founded in Chicago, they were charter members of the NFL in 1920, but they have played in only seven playoff games since then, averaging less than one playoff game per decade.
In their 88-year history, they have had one home playoff game, in 1947, when they won their only NFL championship. They spent 28 years in St. Louis (1960-87) and never hosted a playoff game there.
The last of their four division titles was in 1975, and their last playoff berth was in 1999. Their all-time playoff record is 2-5.
The Cardinals stopped short of actually claiming victory in the division race, but the Seahawks were willing to concede it.
“Give them credit. They have earned their position,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. “I talked to those guys who have battled like crazy, just like we did five or six years ago when we were coming up, and when you get there, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
But despite the lopsided flow of Sunday’s game, there were no concessions for the future.
“No,” Seattle wide receiver Bobby Engram said when asked about a changing of the guard. “They won. They’ve got it for a year.”