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Cardinals using 2011 to build for 2012 and beyond

The assembled media was in the press conference room,
waiting for Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt but watching
the end of the Broncos game against the Bears.

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

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

Sound familiar?

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.

As my colleague Vince
Marotta so eloquently explains
, there is still a
chance the Cardinals will play in the postseason. And, as
Lloyd Christmas once pointed out,
sometimes a chance is all you need.

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