Cardinals using 2011 to build for 2012 and beyond
Tim Tebow, of course, was in the process of leading his team to its sixth win in a row and seventh in the last eight games. Impressive turnaround, sure, but it only rivals what's happening in the desert.
In winning five of six games and improving to 6-7, the Cardinals not only gave themselves a fighting shot at a playoff berth, but have given notice that their days of being a doormat (once again) are over.
"We believed in what we were doing and we still do," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We are just seeing the benefit of that."
At this point it would be a disappointment if the Cardinals finished the season any worse than 8-8 and, while that normally wouldn't be anything to write home about, the fact that they started the year 1-6 makes it borderline miraculous.
The strong finish, as it would be, is also crucial going forward.
Back in 2007 the Cardinals, fresh off back-to-back 5-11 seasons, went 8-8 in Ken Whisenhunt's first year with the club. The season saw a receiver begin his transformation into one of the league's best, the defense start making plays and an offense that needed multiple QBs to find its footing.
The Cardinals are heading for a non-losing record, Beanie Wells has emerged as a top flight running back and the defense has played amazing football over the last six weeks. You want seeds planted for next year? How about an entire garden's worth.
Four years ago Kurt Warner led the team to five wins in its last eight games, allowing the Cardinals to get a rare taste of success.
They learned how to win, too, and that fact cannot be understated. Arizona carried that momentum into the next year, reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. Are we seeing a similar scenario play out once again?
Perhaps, though that's not to say Birdgang fans should be reserving hotel rooms in New Orleans in preparation for Super Bowl XLVII. The Cardinals don't exactly have a hall of famer under center and have not been terribly convincing in any of their victories.
But they're on the way.
The swagger that comes with knowing you are going to win when you step on the field had left the team (winning just six of 23 games will do that for a franchise), but now seems to be back in that locker room.
There's also an air of defiance.
"You guys stuck a fork in us quite a while ago," Whisenhunt told the media. "I think our guys never let it get to them."
Sorry, coach, we were wrong to throw dirt on this team.
In fact, this season isn't over, as there are still three games left in 2011.
And even if they fall short of the playoffs, this season will be far from a failure, as the narrative of the 2011 season has changed. No longer is the question how bad the Cardinals are; rather it's just how good can they be?
They think much, much better.
"[Teammate Darnell Dockett] just said earlier when we were talking, he was like ‘man, I really feel like if we had an offseason we'd probably be 11-1 right now,'" defensive end Calais Campbell said.
"If we had won just two or three of those games, we would possibly be fighting for the division at this point," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said of the early losses. "That makes you upset."
It should, but the team feeling that way speaks volumes of how far they've come - in both talent and personality.