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Can you see it? The Arizona Cardinals are growing

Can you see it?

Over in Glendale (and, most of the time Tempe), the
Arizona Cardinals are growing.

The seeds were planted in the offseason, when the team
hired Ray Horton to run the defense and decided to enter
the season with promising youth rather than established
veterans at many key positions.

A 1-6 start gave the impression that it was not the way to
go, as the team struggled to compete and made it tough to
believe that the young players could improve to the point
where the Cardinals started winning games.

Then the rest of the season happened.

“We have really grown a lot in all facets of the game:
offense, defense, special teams,” receiver Larry
Fitzgerald said after the team’s 20-17 overtime win over
the Browns Sunday. “Our defense, I think, is the one
single reason we are able to play at that level we have
been playing recently.

“They have done a hell of a job this last part of the
season.”

Indeed, and Fitz’s words may have inspired the true theme
from the 2011 season:

To Hell and back again.

Maybe the Cardinals had to bottom out before they could
head back to the top. As an organization they had
experienced rather sudden success, going from also-ran to
the Super Bowl in one season and winning the NFC West the
following year. Led by Kurt Warner, maybe the team never
truly learned how to win. It just kind of happened, and
perhaps that’s why things were able to fall so far, so
fast.

That’s why the way the team rebounded from its dreadful
start means more than just the Cardinals winning some
games late in the season; it means they know what it’s
like to lose, and want nothing to do with the feeling.

“What I told them is their will to win is pretty strong,”
head coach Ken Whisenhunt said Sunday. “Going through
those games earlier in the season was tough. Maybe that
hardened us, but our guys believe.”

The players may have believed all along, but the fans were
(rightfully) slow to proceed with caution. At this point
everyone may as well dive in head first, because this is
no fluke.

Whether it’s a defense that keeps teams out of the end
zone and gets big stops when needed, a timely offense that
has re-discovered its top weapon and produced a
respectable running game or a coach that had some unwise
columnists questioning his abilities cough…my
bad…cough…
, the point is this is beginning to look
like a team that will be around for the long haul.

Sure, they need to settle the QB position, but at least
they have a couple of prospects there who could pan
out. While no one can definitively say Kevin Kolb or John
Skelton will be a good starting quarterback in the NFL,
there is reason to think one of them could be “the guy.”

And hey, they’re not the first team
to win games
with mediocrity at that position.

But that’s not the point – at least – not really.

That this team somehow fought back from one of the worst
stretches in franchise history says a lot about where the
organization is at, because the players could have easily
stopped fighting and mailed the season in. They didn’t,
and it’s to be commended.

“Sometimes the good teams fall down and sometimes the good
teams get back up and keep fighting,” defensive lineman
Darnell Dockett said.

And whether or not it happens this year, the Cardinals
will be back fighting for a playoff spot soon enough,
possibly as early as next season. With an emerging defense
and an offense that could be in need of just a little
seasoning, the future is certainly bright in Arizona.

“If we play the full game, we will be scary,” Fitzgerald
said. “We would be a force to be reckoned with.”

Soon, Larry. Soon.