The Arizona Cardinals take to the road to face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, and for many Cardinals players it will bring back great memories. Just 21 months ago the Cardinals faced the Falcons in a first-round playoff game in front of a sold-out home crowd and came away with a 30-24 victory that propelled them to a Super Bowl appearance.
Now if you remember, back then Cardinals weren’t supposed to win that game against Atlanta. They weren’t favored to win that game and heading into the contest CBS analyst Cris Collinsworth called Arizona the “worst playoff team of all time.”
Arizona had little – if any – respect back then, as if it was so long ago. The Cardinals were coming off a 9-7 season and had been shellacked by the Jets 56-35, the Eagles 48-20, the Vikings 35-14 and the Patriots 47-7. Atlanta came into the game with the eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year in quarterback Matt Ryan, a running back that had tallied 1,699 yards in Michael Turner, and a wide receiver in Roddy White who had 1,382 receiving yards.
So it’s easy to understand why there were so many doubters going into that game. Arizona hadn’t won a playoff game since 1998 and hadn’t hosted a playoff game since 1947.
But Arizona did win the game. They shut down Turner (18 carries for 42 yards), forced Ryan into two interceptions, got a 27-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Antrel Rolle and held on for the win.
Looking back now we can point to that victory for the turning point in the Cardinals organization. Who knows what would have happened had they lost that game. But they didn’t. That win over the Falcons legitimized the Arizona Cardinals. It made them relevant. It made believers of people who were doubters.
Arizona went on to beat Carolina and Philadelphia in the playoffs before losing to the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, it was the win over the Falcons that turned around the fortunes of a franchise that up to that point had no respect. It made believers of not only fans and media, but it made believers of the players themselves.
Just something to ponder as you get ready to watch the Cardinals and Falcons go at it again on Sunday.