TEMPE, Ariz. — Five years ago, the Arizona Cardinals went into a Thanksgiving road game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a 7-4 record and eyes on a postseason berth.
They lost by a score of 48-20, and the game wasn’t even that close.
Earlier this week, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said handling prosperity can be a great challenge for a football team, and it’s something Calais Campbell- – a rookie in 2008 — said was a problem.
“That was something that was new around here,” he said of success. “You could tell people weren’t really used to that. But it felt good and we weren’t sure if we could keep it up.”
Campbell said the team got a bit too “big-headed,” but ultimately everyone learned from the rough stretch that game was a part of. From that team, only Campbell, Larry Fitzgerald, Darnell Dockett, Lyle Sendlein and Karlos Dansby remain, and the linebacker says there was plenty to be learned from that fateful night.
“We didn’t play disciplined in that game at all,” Dansby said. “We weren’t trusting the guys next to us and we didn’t play together. It’s a totally different team, totally different atmosphere.”
Led by Kurt Warner and a high-powered offense, the ‘08 team was coming off a home loss to the New York Giants before heading out on a short week for the primetime matchup. The Eagles game was the Cards’ second defeat in a row, and one of what would be four losses in a five-game span. In about a month, the team went from 7-3 to 8-7, ultimately finishing 9-7.
Things are certainly different this season, as the Cardinals are riding a four-game win streak led by an elite defense and an offense that seems to be finding its way. Campbell said the ’08 team did not find its stride until later in the season, but thinks this year’s squad has done so already.
“Which could be a bad thing,” he admitted. “But hopefully we’re strong-minded enough to take a step back and make sure we know that we can’t relax, we can’t lose that beat. We have to keep this momentum going week in and week out.
“And even if we have a bad day and we lose a game, hey, you’ve got to keep balling. Step up and keep coming. Hopefully we don’t have to lose another game, but if it happens we’ve got to respond. That’s good football. The best teams respond.”
Though they’re in excellent position with regards to the playoffs, the Cardinals have still yet to really prove they are one of the league’s best teams. They’ve beaten good teams as well as won on the road, but they have yet to beat a good team on the road.
Sunday, they’ll play a good team that, like them, has playoff aspirations.
“I know that this team, this year understands the fact that every game we play from now on is going to be a playoff environment-type of game,” Sendlein said. “Especially, everyone also understands the fact that Philadelphia is trying to win their division, and we realize that we’re in the way of them trying to get their division and they’re in the way of us trying to get to the playoffs.”
It’s that attitude that, whether learned because of what happened in 2008 or just knowing how the NFL works, may help this year’s team avoid the late-season swoon their predecessors dealt with.
“I think that we have a clear understanding of what it takes to be a championship team, and those other guys who came here from other teams who have played in the playoffs, they all know,” he said. “So I feel like this team is a lot wiser than that team was.”
Experience has to count for something.
Apparently the Eagles game — along with the late-season skid it was a part of — taught the Cardinals a valuable lesson that season, as the team advanced to Super Bowl XLIII by way of a NFC Championship Game win over the same Eagles team that had trounced them just months before.
Few saw that coming, especially with the way things went on Thanksgiving. Of all the recipes used that day, though, that would ended up being the best.
“Honestly, if we can have the same results to the season, make a Super Bowl run, they can have this week,” Fitzgerald joked.