NEW ORLEANS -- Kurt Warner's pass had just been intercepted, and the Arizona quarterback charged over to help make the tackle. Before he had a chance, he was flattened by a big defensive end.
It was quite an omen for a man already considering retirement.
"Every time you take a hit like that, it makes you think twice about playing this game," Warner said with a laugh. "But something like that, or even this game, will not be the determining factor on my decision."
A week after one of his finest performances, Warner was no match for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in their divisional playoff game Saturday night. Warner threw for 205 yards and no touchdowns in the Cardinals' 45-14 loss.
Now he'll have to decide whether to return next season or call it a career. Warner missed a game with a concussion earlier this season, and there's been widespread speculation that the 38-year-old is about to retire.
"Obviously, as I've said a million times, I've thought about it a lot and have over the last couple years," Warner said. "I have some ideas in my head, but again, you want to get away from the season for a minute and make sure everything you're feeling stays that way."
"It's a little bit early to talk about that," he said.
Warner was hurt again against the Saints, leaving in the second quarter with a chest injury after he was intercepted by Will Smith and hit by 260-pound Bobby McCray while running toward Smith. Warner returned at the start of the second half with his team trailing 35-14, but the Cardinals never threatened after that, and backup Matt Leinart came back in late in the game.
Warner said he doesn't anticipate a drawn-out decision-making process about his future.
"I would never want to do that, either way, to an organization," he said. "I want to let them know as soon as I know for sure."
Last weekend, Warner threw for 379 yards and five touchdowns in a 51-45 overtime win over Green Bay. When Arizona's Tim Hightower ran 70 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage Saturday night, the Cardinals appeared to be picking up right where they left off.
They did -- but only on defense.
After giving up 35 points to Green Bay in the second half, Arizona allowed 35 in the first half against the Saints, a pace Warner and the offense couldn't match.
Two other key injuries might have done in the Cardinals' hopes of defending as NFC champs even before Warner went down. Arizona lost two starting defensive backs in the first half as New Orleans built its big lead. Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie went out with a sprained left knee, and safety Antrel Rolle left with a head injury.
Arizona was also playing without wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who has been nursing left ankle and knee injuries since the regular-season finale.
Warner has played in three Super Bowls, winning one with the St. Louis Rams. If he does decide to retire, his career would end in the same building where he endured one of his toughest defeats, a 20-17 loss to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI.
This game wasn't nearly that close. After taking a 7-0 lead, Arizona gained only 41 yards the rest of the first quarter in falling behind 21-7. It was 28-14 when Warner got hurt.
Warner finished 17 of 26. His longest pass of the game was his first one, a 28-yarder to Jerheme Urban. Urban fumbled at the end of the play and the Saints recovered. New Orleans drove for a 14-7 lead and never looked back.
"I'd like to think that we were going to march that down and put some points on the board and kind of get it going back and forth," Warner said. "That's what good teams do. They create turnovers, they capitalize on them."
Warner's counterpart was nearly flawless. Brees went 23 of 32 for 247 yards and three touchdowns, putting the game out of reach even for the Cardinals' powerful offense. The focus in Arizona now turns to Warner, who says his family will have plenty of input as he considers his future.
"It goes back and forth, what they want me to do. They'll be a part of that process as well," Warner said. "Obviously, specifically my wife will be a big part of that process. I don't know if I can weigh the kids' opinions too strongly."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press