GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Heading toward a press conference after his most significant win as an NFL quarterback, Kevin Kolb stopped, tilted his head up and asked someone, "Is my nose clean?" He chuckled a little as he said it.
A sense of the absurd can take a person far in life, and the Arizona Cardinals quarterback appears to have an ample supply.
After his wife, Whitney, gave birth to their third child on Thursday, assuring that Kolb would not have to skip a game to be at her side, he couldn't believe all the fuss over the arrival of their daughter. "Saw it on the ticker on the NFL Network," he said. "I thought: ‘What just happened?'"
Kolb heard boos from the home crowd on Sunday, piling on after two straight sacks -- and just before he drove the Cardinals to a game-tying touchdown and overtime against Miami, then on to a 24-21 win. He’d heard them before, when he came off the bench in the season opener to replace John Skelton, whose badly sprained ankle forced him to ride off the field on a cart.
The Cardinals trailed by only three points at the time, and the home crowd was booing its new quarterback. It was absurd.
Kolb dismissed the noise. He’d been in Philly and, even as a backup, knew what it meant to be saturated in drama. This was nothing to him.
The Cardinals won that opener, then beat the Patriots and his former employers, the Eagles, and now sit at 4-0. They’re the NFL's September Surprise, and no element of their success is more shocking than Kolb’s role in it.
Is a long-shot comeback story possible for a quarterback who never really went away? Is it reasonable to read redemption into the survival of a player deemed worthy just last season of a huge trade and an even huger contract?
Consider how far Kolb has traveled in less than four months.
At the start of training camp, former NFL linebacker Willie McGinest appeared on the league network’s show “Total Access" and said that his buddies on the Cardinals’ roster would root for Skelton, a fifth-round draft pick, to keep the job that he had handled adroitly in place of Kolb last year.
"He didn’t get a huge contract like Kolb did," McGinest said, "and he’s one of those guys that can command a huddle, can come in there, and guys just like his attitude."
The exhibition season sank Kolb. He looked dreadful, and the phrase “small sample size’’ threatened to attach itself to him permanently. The Cardinals, desperate for a quarterback as the 2011 lockout ended, paid a hefty price to grab Kolb despite the fact that he had started only seven games in his four seasons with the Eagles.
Skepticism obviously remains in abundance, even though Kolb went into Sunday’s game with the third-best passer rating in the NFL (108.6) and wins against some difficult opponents. His passer rating was based on the lowest number of attempts in the NFL, so the caveat of sample size remained. And he added a bold-faced entry to his ledger of bad decisions shortly before the lusty boos began.
Up by a point in the fourth quarter, Kolb forced a pass to Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone, not noticing that the receiver had been shoved out of bounds and lacking the sense to get rid of the ball. Miami’s Sean Smith intercepted it, and an 80-yard pass gave the Dolphins the lead with 7:05 to play.
At the press-conference podium, hindsight made everything clear to Kolb.
"It’s second-and-goal from the two," he said. "Throw the ball away. Quit trying to do more than you can."
His coach, Ken Whisenhunt, said the same thing rather emphatically. He’s certainly not ready to declare Kolb a success story, and he may never be. This quarterback appears to have more fight in him while under suspicion than he did as the Chosen One. Why fool with that?
Besides, if a quarterback has a receiver of Fitzgerald’s fiber, his excuse allotment should be minuscule. Fitzgerald protected Kolb better than his offensive line, saying after the game that he, and not his quarterback, deserved the blame for an early interception, Kolb’s first of the season.
"The pick before the half was on me," Fitzgerald said. "I was dancing around too much at the line of scrimmage and I put Kevin in a bad spot.”
That wasn’t enough for the receiver. He tried to absorb some heat for the end-zone interception, too.
"When the quarterback is out of the pocket, [the DB is] allowed to push me," Fitzgerald said. "I should’ve just fallen down to let Kevin know I fell out of bounds and I wasn’t eligible anymore."
Wouldn’t we all love to have a guy like that working next to us?
Kolb’s career got a quiet, but even bigger, boost from his wife in the last few weeks. "After I made the comment about missing a game to be at the birth, Whitney pulled me aside and said: 'You know, I think just the opposite,'" he said on Friday afternoon. "... So even before the Philly game, I knew I’d play even if she was having the baby."
So why didn’t he say something, and end the tension over whether the undefeated Cardinals would be led by rookie Ryan Lindley? Kolb said there was never much of a chance that kickoff and labor pains would coincide, and if he had stayed up all night in the delivery room before a game, he might have had to skip the start anyway.
The look on his face said: "Much ado about nothing." His body language said the same thing after two straight sacks near the start of the first quarter. The possession was over, and Kolb popped up, hustling to the sideline, practically skipping. The Dolphins sacked him eight times, but never really took him down.
That brings us back to the original question about nasal hygiene. Any reply was inaudible, but the proper answer was: You just had the snot knocked out of you, and you look quite presentable.