- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

Three weeks ago, with his Arizona Cardinals mired in yet another losing streak, coach Dave McGinnis was bitten on the foot by a scorpion.

"We had lost three in a row and I was getting ready to go bed around midnight and … darn scorpions out here in the desert," McGinnis said yesterday as Arizona prepared for Sunday's visit by Washington. "That thing popped me in the bottom of my foot. I was laying there with my leg numb from my knee down to my foot wondering what the hell can happen next? Well, we've won three in a row since, so I'm looking for another scorpion. I'm not adverse to getting another sting if it will mean another win."

Asked what a rattlesnake bite would be worth, McGinnis said, "There are probably some people who wish it had been a rattlesnake."

But there's no escaping the fact that something has changed since the scorpion's sting. Outlasting the winless Detroit Lions and skidding San Diego Chargers is one thing, but ending the 10-game home winning streak of the defending AFC West champion Oakland Raiders was altogether different.

That 34-31 overtime triumph last week tied the Cardinals (5-6) with the Redskins and defending NFC champion New York Giants for second in the NFC East. It also put them on the verge of equaling their longest winning streak since 1977, when they were based in St. Louis.

"We're the youngest team in the league, so for us to be able to go into as hostile an environment as Oakland against as good a team as they have and come out of there with a victory means a lot," said McGinnis, who moved up from defensive coordinator when Vince Tobin was fired Oct. 23, 2000.

The victory over the 8-3 Raiders was Arizona's first over a playoff-caliber team in more than two years. But then the Cardinals' average record during their previous 13 years in the desert was 6-10. With no teams left on the schedule with a better record than theirs, the Cardinals actually have a shot at their second playoff berth in three years after missing the postseason the previous 15 years.

Arizona has achieved this with what amounts to a no-name lineup. The once-formidable defensive line of Simeon Rice, Eric Swann, Mark Smith and Andre Wadsworth has been replaced by the unknown front four of waiver wire pickups Barron Tanner and Russell Davis, sixth-rounder Jabari Issa and undrafted rookie Fred Wakefield.

Promising rookie end Kyle Vanden Bosch's season ended with torn knee ligaments when Tanner fell on the second-round pick in practice. Two-time Pro Bowl receiver Rob Moore was lost for a second straight year without catching a pass. The running game remains stuck in neutral. And yet the Cards are on the brink of .500.

One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround is fifth-year quarterback Jake Plummer, who has 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions after tossing 45 picks and just 22 scores the previous two seasons.

"Jake is more comfortable in this offense, and he has matured," McGinnis said. "When I first got this job, I sat down with Jake and told him that he was my quarterback. I also told him that he had to operate the offense, not be the savior of the offense, do all of his Houdini acts within the offense. I think that has really helped him."

Despite a career-high 81.4 rating, Plummer is ninth among NFC passers. But few are better in the clutch. He has rallied the Cardinals the past two weeks, giving him 16 such comebacks among 23 career victories.

"I've always been a big Jake Plummer fan," Redskins coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's obviously getting a lot more confident. His anticipation is unlike what I've seen from him before. He's in a groove right now. He's throwing the ball very well and, of course, the threat of him moving around is always there also. He's got a great thing going with [wideout David] Boston [who has 72 catches and a league-high 1,171 receiving yards]."

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