December represents a critical stretch for Arizona Cardinals’ playoff hopes
Twelve weeks of NFL football has come and gone.
And just like that, it’s December, the final full month of regular season games.
With only five weeks left in the season, every game matters that much more for teams jostling for playoff positioning.
One of those squads fighting for a spot in the postseason is the Arizona Cardinals, who at 6-5, are squarely in the playoff picture.
And from the sounds of it, the players inside Arizona’s locker room know full well what the importance of enhanced play over the next month can bring to an organization.
“We haven’t played a complete game all season and we still have everything right in front of us,” Cardinals linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said via Zoom on Tuesday. “In terms of if we’ve reached out ceiling, we’re not even close. … I’ve been in a situation like this before where you have to win out to make the playoffs, so it’s possible. We haven’t played a complete game yet and here we are still in the driver seat. … We just have to take it one day at a time.”
For Campbell and the Cardinals, they enter Week 13 after losing a very winnable game against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Much like Campbell said, the team failed to string together a complete game, with the offense failing to fire on all cylinders and a defense that was dinged with a few costly penalties that helped turn the tide of the game.
Campbell, who signed with the Cardinals this offseason after four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons, has a good grasp of what needs to happen for a team to take that next step past the regular season.
As a member of the Falcons in 2016-17, Campbell got firsthand experience what playoff football tasted like, especially as a rookie. In his first year in the NFL, Campbell was a part of the Falcons’ Super Bowl team that lost to the New England Patriots after being up 28-3. The following year, Atlanta made it to the second round before falling to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Having been in the big moments, Campbell knows there’s a switch that needs flipped for teams looking to earn a playoff berth.
“You have to take it one day at a time. December football is where playoff football starts,” Campbell said. “That’s where you separate yourself. We have five games left and … either you want it or you don’t. That’s where you find out in December. The beautiful thing about it is we control that. It’s not in anybody else’s hands.
“And the thing I know about the playoffs is once you make it in, it doesn’t matter what your record was in the regular season. All that matters is who plays the best that day. Everybody’s 0-0.”
Offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum, who has been able to break through the threshold of the playoffs as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, echoed Campbell’s sentiment, adding that execution and doing the little things is key to the team’s overall success moving forward.
That couldn’t be more true after Sunday’s loss to New England.
A game that seemed to be in the Cardinals’ favor right out the gate, slipped right through the offense’s fingers after failing to convert a goal-line touchdown just before half and missing a potential game-winning field goal late into the fourth quarter.
From a defensive standpoint, the unit did well against Cam Newton, allowing just 84 yards on 50% passing (9-of-18) and tallying three sacks and two interceptions. Penalties, however, reared their ugly heads, dousing their effort late.
The Cardinals will surely look to right the wrongs of last week’s loss to the Patriots in Week 13 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Clean execution is key in turning the page. Good teams don’t sit back and worry about past games, with the rest of the regular season being viewed as an extension of the playoffs.
“I’m not saying earlier in the year was real football but we’re in playoff football right now,” Beachum said via Zoom on Tuesday. “You have to find a way to win in December to have a chance to be in the dance in a couple weeks. We have to find ways to execute week in and week out, play in and play out.
“Practice is so important, Kliff has been doing a phenomenal job of making sure we’re working through situations in practice but that practice now has to translate into the game because the thing is, all that matters is performance on Sundays.”