TEMPE, Ariz. — Forget the story line of Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians facing off against the team he helped lead to the playoffs as an interim head coach last season.
As big as that may be and as great as the story is for the media, it pales in comparison to the fact that when the 6-4 Cardinals take the field to play the 7-3 Indianapolis Colts Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, their playoff hopes will very much be on the line.
“We’ve got a tough game, probably our toughest game of the season coming up this weekend against Indy,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “This is a really, really good football team; this is a team that’s going to be in the playoffs.
“If we’re really contenders and we feel as though we can be a playoff team, these are the kind of games that we have to win. We’re at home, there’s no excuses. This is a game that we have to win if we consider ourselves to be a playoff team.”
Entering play Thursday, the Cardinals were on the outside of the playoff picture, though ever so slightly. With six games left they are very much in the race, though they have very little margin for error in the competitive NFC.
And though the Cardinals are on a three-game winning streak and appear to be trending in the right direction, Fitzgerald knows how quickly things can change in the NFL. After all, just last season the Cardinals won their first four games — and then lost their next 10.
It happens everywhere, Fitzgerald said, teams getting off to fast starts before fading or struggling out of the gate before turning things around.
“But that’s just how it is,” he said. “You get on a roll and things get hot for you, and we’re trying to find our groove. We won three in a row now and we just want to continue to swing that positive momentum.”
Of course, it would be naïve to think there is no sense of “win it for Bruce” in the locker room, as everyone knows the situation and what it would mean to the coach. Arians has made no secret of just how much this game means to him.
“It was very special,” Arians said of what happened last year with the Colts. “That part of it, there will be a lot of hugging and high-fiving, and then just like your brother in your backyard, I’m kicking your ass.”
It’s been that kind of week.
“You’d like to say no, but for him, yes,” QB Carson Palmer said when asked if the situation means something to the players. “I think this entire locker room has a tremendous amount of respect for him and wants to please him.”
Palmer added that they all know how Arians feels about the Colts from his time there, and that with the way everyone has bought into what the coach is selling, they absolutely want to perform well Sunday.
“Obviously we want to get to 7-4 for a number of reasons, and one of them is for him.”