TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals won 10 games in 2013, Bruce Arians’ first season with the team.
They followed that up with an 11-victory campaign in 2014, one that likely would have been better if not for a ridiculous rash of injuries that included the loss of quarterback Carson Palmer.
Now, in 2015, it’s safe to say even more is expected of the team.
“We’re extremely hungry, man, with the way we finished last year,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Obviously we’re super talented, and we understand that. I think the biggest thing is us staying healthy and playing with consistency. It’s really going to take us holding each other accountable in order to really achieve those goals, but there’s no doubt about it we’re a playoff team.”
Playoffs? Yeah, that would be nice, but the Cardinals have their sights set even higher. Say, Super Bowl 50?
“The expectation is high,” safety Rashad Johnson said. “Our head coach, Coach B.A., hasn’t shied away from saying Super Bowl or bust. We believe that.
“We believe we have the talent here, we believe we have the camaraderie here and we believe we have the experience here to get it done. Last year we weren’t able to finish it — no excuses — we lost our quarterback who’s a great player, a big part of what we do. We got him back, he’s healthy and he’s zipping the ball so we’re excited to get this first game going, coming out with a win, and then we can stack them from there.”
That first win, they’re hoping, will come Sunday against the New Orleans Saints at University of Phoenix Stadium.
While maybe not pegged to be the most difficult team on Arizona’s No. 5-ranked schedule, the Saints figure to provide a stiff test for a Cardinals team that aims to show it is among the NFL’s elite. Though a loss Sunday would not spell the end of their postseason hopes, stumbling out of the gate against a team that won seven games last season would not be a good idea.
“I think every game is equally important, it doesn’t matter what game it is,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “As long as you’re playing the game, it’s important. You have to win so many of them to get in, and in the NFC I don’t think 10, it might not be good enough, so to get 11 wins means you only have five losses you can have, and even then, I think we’re good enough to where we might be able to get more than that. Every game is critical, and this is the most critical because it’s the first one.”
“We just want to win on Sunday,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “It’s impossible to win a Super Bowl if we don’t take care of business week-to-week. So we have to just respect the process — Coach always talks about respecting the process, you know, respecting Thursday football, Friday football, Saturday football, and when you get to Sunday you play good and you try to get a win, and then you go on to the next week.
“That’s just kind of how we have to look at it.”
That approach, viewing the game that is in front of them as the most important on the schedule, is one you will find all throughout the locker room. Though the Cardinals may believe they will still be playing football on Feb. 7 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, there is no interest in looking that far ahead.
And why should they? As Campbell noted, the team has to win enough games in order to even reach the postseason, and at this very moment no one knows how many it will take. However, one thing for certain is you can’t win the last game of the season if you don’t win enough over the five months prior to it.
But rest assured, there is a strong belief that this is a team that could be poised for a special season. While every team begins the season with Super Bowl aspirations, the Cardinals are one of a handful that can really truly believe it. It is a sense — a vibe, even — that has permeated throughout the entire organization.
Veteran linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who won a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he sensed it from his first day with the organization. Running back Chris Johnson, who was added during training camp, sees it too.
“Me being with Tennessee and then going to New York, it was always a situation like, ‘let’s try to get to the playoffs,'” running back Chris Johnson said. “But this team is not even ‘let’s try and get to the playoffs,’ it’s like, ‘let’s win a Super Bowl, let’s get there.’
“So we’ve got very high expectations, and you can tell that all the guys around here got their minds focused on getting there, so it should be a pretty good year.”
Some stories for pre-game reading
Running back Chris Johnson, who suffered a gunshot wound in March, said at the time he wasn’t sure he would ever play football again.
Remember Jonathan Cooper? The starting right guard is quietly preparing for his first career Week 1 start. It was a long time coming, by the way.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson will have ‘special duties’ this season.
The Cardinals have a newly-renovated training facility in Tempe, and team president Michael Bidwill was more than happy to show it off Friday.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will be playing in an NFL game for the first time since Dec. 15, 2013. He’s having fun with making his return.
ESPN’s Ron Jaworski is one analyst who is predicting big things for the Cardinals in 2015.
A couple defensive stars made their acting debuts on a popular TV show.
• Receiver Michael Floyd is listed as questionable on the official injury report, but Friday head coach Bruce Arians said knowing the receiver, he’d give him a “pretty solid” chance of playing Sunday. When asked about his chances, Floyd said he thinks he can, but at this point it’s a mental issue and he’ll have to see how things are Sunday. But, he said he wouldn’t be practicing like he has if he didn’t think he’d be able to give it a shot.
• Rookie running back David Johnson said he hasn’t really thought about what it will be like for his first NFL play, carry or catch.
“I think I’ll be too excited — I probably won’t be thinking, to tell you the truth,” he said. “Hopefully my mind is focused, hopefully I’m not cloudy, but we’ll have to see when the time comes.”
• The Saints are hoping to have a more balanced approach on offense this season, but there’s no doubt about who the Cardinals’ defense worries about most: QB Drew Brees.
“He’s like a cheetah,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “He’s like the best. All the rules your coach tells you, when you get out there on the field, he’ll defy that. That’s just what he does. The guy’s a winner. If you let him get going, it could be a long day.”
Incidentally, Mathieu’s first career interception came against Brees, in the end zone during a game in New Orleans.
“Which happens to be a Hall of Fame quarterback, so” he said, with a smile. “So hopefully I can get another one this week, that would be fun. He’s obviously going to test us, he’s going to give us an opportunity to make a play. The biggest thing is us making that play and being in the right spot.”
• Bruce Arians expressed nothing but confidence in the right side of his offensive line, which includes first-time starters Jonathan Cooper at right guard and Earl Watford at right tackle.
“I think Coop has been solid all camp and I trust Earl that Earl’s going to play very well,” he said.
Speaking of Watford, specifically, why did the team decide to go with him over veteran Bradley Sowell, who has started multiple games in the NFL?
“You see a little bit more snap in his punch,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Bradley does a good job athletically, but sometimes you’ve got to have a little power, too. Earl’s a little bit more powerful, a little bit more assertive when it comes to pass protection.”
• QB Carson Palmer is one of many key players returning from an injury, but he is easily the most important. Coming back from his second career torn ACL, he’s looking forward to another season.
“It’s just a blessing. I’m extremely excited and I need to chill out a little bit because it’s only Tuesday. The longer you play the game, the more you realize how special each opportunity is and how special each year is. You’ve got to take advantage of every one because you don’t know when they stop. I learned that the hard way last year, and thankfully, I’m back to having another opportunity.”
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