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Desert swarmed Warner puts on a show in keeping Bills on heels Week Five: Cards knock out Edwards early with concussion, then Warner leads galloping Arizona offense in romp

It turns out all those rabbit ears that cable television customers used to watch Sunday's Buffalo Bills game will not be collector's items in Western New York.

They will be a memento not to the Bills' first 5-0 start in 17 years but to the brilliance of Kurt Warner.

The Arizona Cardinals' 37-year-old quarterback put on a clinic in handing the Bills their first loss of the season.

Calling many of his own plays at the line of scrimmage, Warner led Arizona to scores on seven of their first eight possessions en route to a 41-17 rout.

The Cardinals got the upper hand on the third play from scrimmage, when safety Adrian Wilson put Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards out of the game with a concussion. Edwards spent the rest of the afternoon in the dressing room but was coherent after the game.

Warner, meanwhile, kept the Bills on their heels all day, completing 33 of 42 passes for 250 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"He's a great quarterback," marveled Cardinals receiver Early Doucet. "I wanted to do anything I could just to get in his way, because I know he'll find you."

Warner showed the Bills why he was a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, why he is the second most accurate passer in league history, and why he has a Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy case.

The Bills were committed to not giving up the big play to an Arizona passing game that has ranked among the top 10 in the NFL three straight years.

That was no problem for Warner. He let the Bills die a slow death, dinking and dunking his way down the field drive after drive.

A Bills turnover gave Arizona a short field (38 yards) en route to its first touchdown. But Warner took the Cardinals 80 yards on their second drive, 78 on their third, 44 on their fourth and 78 on their sixth.

Warner has loved throwing downfield ever since he burst onto the NFL scene in 1999 and created the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis.

The Cardinals, however, did not want to give the Bills' pass rush too many chances to create turnovers and believed their receivers could control the ball.

"We managed the game," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Even though we were using three- and four-receiver sets, we still controlled the clock and moved the ball down the field with 13-, 14-, 15-play drives. That was intentional and that was the game plan."

"Typically every week they're a deep passing team, and they didn't really try us in that way," Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell said. "We've got to be better on those short passes and have everybody rally to the ball."

Whisenhunt gave Warner more leeway to call plays at the line.

"It gives me a chance to see what the defense is doing and mix it up," Warner said. "It's a package I feel comfortable with, and I can mix and match different things and work to different receivers. I think it's one of our strengths. I appreciate the freedom that they give me to call plays."

Even though the Cardinals were without star receiver Anquan Boldin, the Bills did not call a lot of blitzes. It's likely that was in part because they did not want to risk exposing their secondary, which was playing without injured cornerback Terrence McGee.

"When he saw two-deep zone he was checking to the draw and to the counter," said Bills safety Donte Whitner, referring to running plays that hurt the Bills. "When he saw single high [one safety deep], he was going outside with the short curl routes and the flat routes."

"We have a number of plays that are 'check with me's,' " Whisenhunt said. "We've given Kurt some freedom to check plays, and he does an outstanding job with that."

Warner checked out of a running play on the Cards' first touchdown, a 2-yard pass to Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The Bills had a coverage mix-up on the play. Rookie Leodis McKelvin was lined up opposite Fitzgerald in the slot, but both he and cornerback Ashton Youboty, lined up outside, broke on an inside route. Fitzgerald was wide open.

On the key play on the drive that made the score 31-17, Warner stared down blitzing linebacker Paul Posluszny and threw a slip screen to running back J.J. Arrington.

That perfect play call converted a third-and-13 situation.

The Bills entered the game allowing an NFL-low 19 percent on third-down conversions. Arizona converted 9 of 15 third downs (60 percent).

The Bills' defense had held opposing quarterbacks to 46 percent completions. Warner hit 78.5 percent.

The Bills' four-man pass rush was utterly ineffective. The weakness in Warner's game throughout his career has been ball security in the face of pressure. He has 84 career fumbles, fourth most among active players. After fumbling three times in last week's loss, Warner carried a football around in his house all week.

"I was actually chasing my kids around and I had two hands on the football," Warner said. "Or they were chasing me around trying to simulate the Buffalo Bills. I was just trying to think about it, becoming more conscious about it."

The combination of short passes and good blocking by the Cardinals' offensive line kept Warner clean in the pocket.

J.P. Losman, subbing for Edwards, was 15 of 21 passing for 220 yards.

He hit Lee Evans on an 87-yard TD bomb early in the second quarter and scored himself on a 2-yard keeper near the end of the first half.

But miscues foiled the Bills' comeback hopes in the second half. An offside penalty on Justin Jenkins on a Cards field-goal try caused a four-point swing (Arizona got a TD instead of a field goal). And a fumble by Robert Royal led to another easy Arizona score.

The win put the Cardinals (3-2) in first place in the NFC West. The Bills (4-1) remain first in the AFC East, and now have a bye week to lick their wounds.

"Forty-one to 17 -- that's ugly as hell," Mitchell said. "But it's still just a loss. You try to take what you can from the experience and just rebound."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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