Once again, New Orleans serves as crossroads for Cardinals
New Orleans is famous for jazz, gumbo, hurricanes, hangovers, voodoo and beignets. The latter – deep-fried donuts inside a bag of powdered sugar – transports tourists into a gooey haze of happiness, shrouding an essential truth about their surroundings:
The city can get ugly. The Cardinals have seen it before. And on Sunday, New Orleans will once again serve as a crossroads for our surging NFL team.
With a victory, they will be 4-3-1 and in the playoff chase. They will have beaten the NFC’s best team in the NFL’s most hostile stadium. They will validate their current winning streak, which has come against forlorn teams with a 3-18 record combined: Bengals, Falcons and Giants.
They will also have to take a hard look at their roster.
In the NFL, street free agents are no longer a panacea. They are gauze and bandages. Just like the recent addition of running back Alfred Morris.
Today’s NFL is suddenly like Major League Baseball where the really bad teams are accused of tanking; where the trade deadline is a really big deal; and you have two months to declare your intentions. Buyer or seller?
Look around the NFC West. The Rams traded a chunk of their future for star cornerback Jalen Ramsey; the 49ers traded for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders; and the Seahawks just acquired former Lions safety Quandre Diggs.
An arms race is escalating inside the league’s toughest division. And if the Cardinals beat the Saints on Sunday, they will be compelled to juice up their roster.
“Can we beat New Orleans? Of course,” defensive star Chandler Jones said. “But we have to play our best football in order to win. And I feel like Kliff (Kingsbury) and our coaching staff will do the best of their ability to get us prepared.”
For now, all we know is what General Manager Steve Keim won’t do: He’s not going to trade cornerback Patrick Peterson, who was given a game ball after Sunday’s victory against the Giants, a clear signal of how desperate the team is to mend fences with their star cornerback.
Peterson is one of the players who will give the Cardinals a fighting chance on Sunday. His indomitable cockiness and exaggerated sense of self plays extremely well inside a defensive huddle, especially in high-leverage situations.
He’s the kind of player who can make a big play in a big game. So is Chandler Jones. So is Larry Fitzgerald. So is Kyler Murray. And as Kurt Warner will tell you, those are the types of players you need to make the playoffs. Do the Cardinals have enough of those guys?
The NFC West features an unbeaten team (San Francisco); the reigning Super Bowl bridesmaid (Los Angeles); and a team with the current MVP of the league (Seattle). The Cardinals seemed to make a bold stroke weeks ago, signing Michael Crabtree to bolster a deficient group of wide receivers, only to find him an ill fit for the new regime.
They are chasing three very good teams inside their own division, with five NFC West games left to play. If they somehow beat the Saints on Sunday, circumstances almost demand some kind of trade. For themselves and the rest of us. And yet:
After enduring his six-game PED suspension, the Cardinals can claim that Peterson is essentially an incoming asset and far better than any kind of trade. Similarly, the sudden ascension of a seldom-used backup – Chase Edmonds – might accomplish the same, giving Arizona the kind of explosive running back that will take Kingsbury’s offense to another level.
“I hear people talking about Chase Edmonds and how he’s sparking,” Jones said. “As I said in an interview (Sunday) night after the game, I was just excited for you guys to see it. I’ve been seeing Chase do that in practice for months, since he was a rookie. It’s exciting. And it’s nothing new.”
The current winning is certainly new. So is the mood. The Cardinals have held double-digit leads in each of their past three games. They haven’t committed a turnover in three weeks. They lead the NFL in strip sacks and fumble recoveries. They feel like a powerhouse in the making. But how soon?
The Cardinals were in New Orleans in 2010, at a different crossroads, for a playoff game in New Orleans after their improbable run to the Super Bowl. That’s when Reggie Bush led the Saints onto the field with a baseball bat in his hands and a bounty was placed on Kurt Warner, who retired after the game. When the Cardinals were obliterated by a true contender, and the distance to another Super Bowl appearance seemed painfully obvious.
The stakes aren’t as high this time. The Cardinals have a rookie quarterback, not an aging one. Their window is just opening, not closing. For once, time seems to be on their side.
But this is an intersection nonetheless, an unexpected meeting of Present and Future. By Sunday night, their path will be clear.
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