- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Kurt Warner on Sunday completed the most prolific postseason in NFL history with a dramatic, last-minute loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Now the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, four months shy of his 38th birthday and with no contract for next season, must decide whether to return for another year or let that bit of heartbreak mark the end of his career.

“There are just so many emotions that go into that decision,” Warner said after the 27-23 defeat that ripped from his grasp what seemed to be a sure victory in the Super Bowl. “There are things that make you want to come back, and there are things that say maybe I’m ready for a little bit of a break. I really don’t know at this point. I don’t want to make any emotional decisions. I enjoyed this season, and I enjoyed this team. … I’m going to take some time away from the game, and then I’ll make the decision.”

Warner’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said he expects his client to play next season. The Cardinals, a franchise that won just one playoff game in six decades before their incredible run this season, certainly want Warner to return - even with Matt Leinart, the club’s first-round draft choice in 2006, being paid millions to stand on the sideline.

With about $40 million in salary cap room, the Cardinals certainly can afford to re-sign Warner.

Speculation in Arizona is that Warner wants to keep playing - especially in the wake of a season in which he led the NFC with a 96.9 passer rating and ranked second with 30 touchdowns and 4,583 yards.

His wife, Brenda, however, wants the NFL’s man of the year to devote himself full-time to their seven children and the family’s strong Christian faith.

Emotions ran high during the wild fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium as Warner rallied the Cardinals from a 20-7 deficit with 7:37 remaining to a 23-20 lead just five minutes later on touchdown passes of 1 and 64 yards to All-Pro receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

But then the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger did to Warner what the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady did to him seven years earlier in New Orleans: deliver a last-minute victory.

No other quarterback - not Brady, not Joe Montana, not John Elway - has passed for more than 360 yards on the NFL’s biggest stage, but Warner has done so in each of his three Super Bowl appearances.

Warner, only five months removed from obscurity, passed for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards to lead the long-lowly Rams over the Tennessee Titans in the 1999 season. He passed for 365 yards against the Patriots and 377 against the Steelers.

“I’m so proud of this football team,” Warner said after Sunday night’s loss. “That’s one of the reasons why it probably doesn’t hurt as much as it could. I can’t say enough about the season that we had. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of three great Super Bowl games. We gave ourselves a chance to win the world championship, and the other team went out and won it. Would I have liked to have won one or two more? No question, but I am proud that I’ve been… a part of some of the greatest Super Bowls ever.”

Just starting in three Super Bowls puts Warner in an elite group. The eight retired quarterbacks who also did so - Montana, Elway, Bob Griese, Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman - all are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brady, who’s 3-0 in Super Bowls, is sure to follow.

Warner may have ensured his enshrinement in Canton with his dazzling fourth-quarter display Sunday.

Through 3 1/2 quarters, Warner played well - he completed 19 of 27 pass attempts for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception - but basically was kept in check.

But with the game on the line, Warner, the former grocery shelf-stocker, Arena Football quarterback and NFL Europe quarterback, was spectacular.

During the final 7:33, the Cardinals went to a spread offense with Warner in the shotgun. He connected on 12 of 16 passes for 205 yards and the two touchdowns to Fitzgerald.

A Roethlisberger toss to Santonio Holmes gave the Steelers the lead back with 35 seconds remaining, leaving the Cardinals in need of a touchdown.

Warner passed to Fitzgerald for 20 yards and to running back J.J. Arrington for 13. The Cardinals reached the Pittsburgh 44 with 15 seconds still to play. But LaMarr Woodley broke through and sacked Warner, who fumbled. The Steelers’ Brett Keisel recovered to leave Warner still searching for that second title.

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