Most Arizona Cardinals fans wrote off the team when the season looked bleak with a 1-6 start. As coach Ken Whisenhunt looked back on the season for evaluations, he noticed that's when the team started to get stronger.
"I think the thing that we learned about our football team from sitting here a couple weeks after the season is that our guys never gave up," Whisenhunt told Arizona Sports 620's Doug and Wolf. "They believed in what we were doing. And I think that anytime you have a team that if you can find ways to win in this league, that's really what it's all about."
The shaky start took a discouraging turn when quarterback Kevin Kolb suffered a turf toe injury against the Baltimore Ravens in seventh week. However, John Skelton took over and led the Cards to a 19-13 overtime win against the Rams. That was the first of four overtime wins during the season. The wins were a bit messy, too, with Arizona going into the second half trailing in seven of the eight wins.
"I think it goes back to not only your beliefs in how you do things, how you prepare, how you practice, but getting your players to believe that and execute it," Whisenhunt said. "It ultimately comes down to being able to make a play or two in a team that can turn a game around."
Those big plays happened often and in timely fashion.
Patrick Peterson snapped the five-game losing streak on a 99-yard punt return in overtime against the Rams, Beanie Wells set a franchise mark of 228 yards a few weeks later against the same St. Louis team, and O'Brien Schofield with two sacks against Cleveland. And, of course, Larry Fitzgerald was Larry Fitzgerald with his clutch catches in the last few games of the season.
"If you just take a minute and think about all the young players that were making some of these plays that were critical to us having success in these games, it really sets the table for the excitement of what we can do as we get together in the offseason," Whisenhunt said.
What Whisenhunt hopes for is that next year's team will know what they are capable of because most of the players are returning.
"What's really exciting is that we went through as tough a time as we possibly could, and we were still able and turn that around and get to that point," Whisenhunt said. "And that bodes well for us because we've got so many guys that understand that now.
"And going into next year, we're not going to have 51 new guys like we did this year. We're going to have a lot of the same guys that know that and they're going to be in here in the offseason and we're going to be working."