Tough lessons for Kevin Kolb, Cardinals

The Cardinals continue to have problems at quarterback as Kevin Kolb fails to deliver in the clutch. AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

SEATTLE -- When the Arizona Cardinals needed their quarterback to drive them into field-goal range with the game on the line, Kevin Kolb threw an interception.

Fluke play? Not for the Cardinals during an unsightly 13-10 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

Kolb had faced a similar set of circumstances right before halftime. The Seahawks picked him off that time as well, one of the leading reasons the Cardinals left Seattle with the same point total they managed with Max Hall and Derek Anderson as their quarterbacks during a 22-10 defeat here last season.

Watching the helplessly overmatched Hall flail away in the uncompromising Northwest elements on that September day in Week 7 last season represented rock bottom at the quarterback position for the Cardinals under coach Ken Whisenhunt. That game, as much as any other, forced the organization into the market for a quarterback good enough to upgrade them right now, not just in the distant future.

Kolb has generally delivered, with a few very specific and damaging exceptions. He's had a hand in four turnovers, all in opponents' territory, during the Cardinals' 1-2 start to this season. Switch a couple of those giveaways into positive plays and Arizona might not have lost to Rex Grossman and Tarvaris Jackson in consecutive weeks.

"I just have to be smarter with the ball, know the situation, think about every play, every down, and then have great trust that we're going to go in there and, worst-case scenario, we're going to kick a field goal," Kolb said afterward. "You have to sock it away and learn from it. It's hard to swallow. Trust me, it's hard to swallow."

Kolb delivered his postgame remarks with appropriate levels of regret and perspective. He wasn't buying the idea that Arizona, having lost a fourth-quarter lead during a 22-21 defeat at Washington last week, was only a couple plays away from being 3-0.

"Guess what, we're one play away from being 0-3, too, because Carolina had the ball there at the end," Kolb said refreshingly. "This game comes down to that. It's an inch in this league and you better be willing to go get that inch."

The Cardinals converted just three times in 14 chances on third down, marginally better than their 2-of-12 showing at Seattle last season. They averaged 4.6 yards per play, up from 4.1 here last season. Their lone touchdown this time was as spectacular as it was unrepeatable, with Kolb retreating to the Seattle 27-yard line before throwing a jump ball to Larry Fitzgerald against double coverage.

And those two interceptions Kolb threw Sunday outnumbered the one Arizona threw at Seattle last season.

Kolb faced third-and-12 from the Seattle 36 with 1:15 remaining when Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor jumped his pass over the middle to tight end Todd Heap. I was watching free safety Earl Thomas on the play, figuring Thomas would be the Seattle defender most likely to make a play on the ball, but Chancellor caught it in stride. Kolb admitted to "getting a little bit greedy" on the play. Having seen an inside defender jump tight end Jeff King's route, Kolb figured he could find Heap with a back-shoulder throw.

"I probably had [receiver] Andre [Roberts] coming right underneath him wide open," Kolb lamented. "Just need to read it out, put the ball in the guy's hand."

Kolb was at his best running the Cardinals' no-huddle offense during an eight-play, 78-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter. Arizona went back to the no-huddle sparingly in the second half, after Seattle had time to adjust.

"We mixed up a lot of packages, gave him a lot of different looks, blitzing from different places, dropping into different coverages to keep him off-balance," veteran Seahawks safety Atari Bigby said. "A lot of times with young quarterbacks, that can be difficult for them. I noticed they went into hurry-up mode so we could not change personnel on them, trying to control the game."

The five-year, $63 million contract Arizona handed Kolb should not obscure his relative inexperience. This was his 10th career regular-season start and his second in a row against a solid defense on the road.

"We're still growing around Kevin and what he does well," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "There were a couple times where plays were mixed up and we didn't run them correctly. That is a product of getting familiar with our offense and that just takes time. It's not something you can snap your fingers and you are running efficiently."

Those are fair points, but it's also reasonable to expect better during clutch situations. There are times when Kolb's winning personality translates to mistakes when a more experienced passer would show greater restraint. As Kolb acknowledged last week, he must learn to walk the line between being aggressive and being careless.

The interception Kolb threw in Redskins territory last week stands as one example. The pass Seattle's Marcus Trufant picked off at the Seattle 17 before halftime Sunday was another. The Cardinals had first down from the Seattle 41 with seven seconds remaining. Kolb threw aggressively for Fitzgerald along the right sideline.

"It was Cover 2, a soft 2, and 'Tru' did a really good job of kind of slow playing it," said Fitzgerald, who had five catches for 64 yards and was shut out in the second half. "He is a nine-year veteran, he is a savvy guy and he just made a heckuva play."

The good news for Arizona is that Kolb appears to have the physical skills, mental makeup and work ethic to succeed. He should only improve as he masters an offense he began practicing only 52 days ago. But those expecting instant results in critical situations will have to wait at least another week.