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With Carolina in the past, Cardinals begin work toward 2016 season

Head coach Bruce Arians watches his team practice during Arizona Cardinals OTAs Tuesday, May 17. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — To rehash the night would be unnecessary and in a way, cruel.

Suffice to say, the NFC Championship Game in Carolina last January did not go nearly as well as the Arizona Cardinals hoped or thought it would.

Home team 49, visitors 15.

Enough said.

“Coaches probably dwell on it a lot longer than players do,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday as his team wrapped up its first OTA practice of the season while answering a question about QB Carson Palmer’s ability to bounce back. “Our last game where we were on tape was ******, we played poorly — the worst we played all year. You look for reasons; played a really good team and didn’t play very well.”

No, they didn’t.

Including the playoffs, the Cardinals lost four games all season. Only twice — Week 17 vs. Seattle and in Carolina — did they appear to be outclassed.

Many point a finger at Palmer, who was intercepted four times and lost two fumbles, as the reason for the latter loss. Questions about his ability to win “the big game” have persisted, and he admitted that they will until he comes away with a win in a game of that magnitude.

But if nothing else, the final game of the 2015 season gave Palmer and the rest of the team a glimpse of what it was like to play that deep into the postseason, even though he said there were not really any surprises last January.

And what happened in Carolina, at least for Palmer, is staying in Carolina.

“I think the last game of everybody’s season in the playoffs lingers for a year, two years, three years, an entire lifetime — it just depends,” Palmer said. “But I’m not letting anything linger with myself, personally. I think it depends on each person; with me I’m just focused on today.”

Palmer’s teammates have differing feelings on what transpired in the NFC Championship Game, though the common theme is disappointment in how things went down. But with the 2016 league year upon them, the page has been turned and optimism has come back.

“In a sense you kind of forget it but at the same time it definitely inspires you to do better,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “Because a lot of us — like coach said — it was kind of weird that all of the five-star players had one of their worst games.

“It’s definitely inspiring because that’s a bad taste I want to get out of my mouth, out of this team’s mouth, out of this organization because I feel that we definitely didn’t — I don’t want to say put our best foot forward — it just wasn’t our best effort in going out there and winning.”

Added left tackle Jared Veldheer when speaking with Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM: “You use that failure as a walkway to future success. You don’t just kind of close it out, don’t look at it. You don’t let it consume you; you use it for what it is and you use it for growth.”

The Week 1 opener against the New England Patriots will represent the first real opportunity to work their way back to the stage they fell flat on last season, and with a little less than four months until that night, there is a strong belief that an offseason of changes has made the Cardinals an even better team than they were when last on an NFL field.

That may be the case, though the only thing that matters is what happens on the field when the games start to count. In preparation for the Sept. 11 opener the Cardinals will work toward their ultimate goal with the kind of confidence that comes with being a team that won 13 regular season games and the NFC West before reaching the NFC Championship Game.

Must they prove they’re a better team? Yes. Do they have any extra motivation to do so?

“No,” Arians said. “I think getting so close gives you all the motivation you need. If you look at it as, ‘Oh, we failed’ to be motivated — no, we achieved a hell of a lot. All we have to do is get a little bit better.

“You look at it that way and you can take all the good things you did last year and build on them.”

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