TEMPE, Ariz. — Kevin Kolb is back, and he led the resurgent Arizona Cardinals to their biggest win of the season. After a rusty start, Kolb hit his stride after halftime in Arizona's 19-13 overtime victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cardinals went 3-1 in Kolb's absence, but two of those wins came — barely — against NFC West bottom feeder St. Louis and the other over the reeling Philadelphia Eagles. Kolb was out to show his return would not slow the team's momentum.
The offense sputtered, and Kolb missed some potentially big plays, as Arizona fell behind 10-3 at the half, but Kolb was 7 for 11 for 203 yards after that, capped by the 52-yard swing pass play to LaRod Stephens-Howling for the winning score.
The second-half provided a much-needed performance to show Kolb might well be worth what the Cardinals gave up to get him from the Eagles — cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick, not to mention the five-year, $63 million contract, with $21 million guaranteed — that the quarterback signed after the trade.
Without the benefit of an offseason, he struggled mightily to master coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense. He guided Arizona to a win in the season opener, then the Cardinals lost six in a row.
Kolb sustained a right turf toe and bruise on the side of the same foot on Oct. 30. The injury was frustratingly slow to heal before he was able to practice all last week.
"Friday practice, it felt so good I knew it wasn't going to be an issue," he said. "I didn't have any worries and our training staff does a good job at what they do. I thought when the bullets were flying I would be fine."
The players had Monday off and Whisenhunt said he had not seen Kolb to ask how the foot responded. Kolb indicated after the game he didn't expect any problems.
"I'm fine," he said Sunday. "I'll be a bit sore tomorrow, obviously, after a month off, but I'll be totally fine. I have no energy left because it was an emotional second half, but everything else will be good."
Whisenhunt said at his Monday news conference several of Kolb's passes were "the kinds of things that you're looking to see that you get really excited about."
"I think he got a better feel for the game as it went on, and the speed of the game," the coach said. "It was really nice for him to make those strides as far as the way we're running our offense. That will give us confidence going forward, especially if we can continue to run the football."
Amazingly, at 5-7, the Cardinals are only two games behind the wild-card leaders with four to play. Next up is a visit by the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers, who dominated Arizona three weeks ago 23-7. John Skelton was benched in that game after throwing three interceptions.
The 49ers seem to have a healthy respect for Kolb.
"Most definitely. Kolb is a gunslinger," cornerback Tarell Brown said Monday. "He's been a gunslinger since his college days. He's a great quarterback. He does a lot of great things for their team, so I definitely think they'll throw the ball a little more, try to get (Larry) Fitzgerald in the game a lot more like they did this past week."
Kolb, who also had a pair of big runs in the game, is just happy to be part of the team's resurgence.
"We were 1-6 and we were playing just as hard ... fighting just as hard as we were the first week," Kolb said. "You don't see that everywhere and that's a big reflection of our leadership, our coaches, and the players we have in the locker room. We just need to keep plugging and keep getting better."