Must-win? No, but Cardinals have sense of urgency heading into matchup with Tampa Bay

Sep 17, 2016, 12:00 PM | Updated: 12:57 pm

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) looks to throws against the New England Patriots du...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) looks to throws against the New England Patriots during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals would no doubt prefer to win Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Since 2002, 100 of 168 playoff teams began their season either 1-1 or 0-2. However, since the 2007 season, just seven of 75 teams who have started their campaign with a pair of losses went on to play in the postseason.

So, having already lost to the New England Patriots in Week 1, it could be argued that a defeat Sunday afternoon to the Buccaneers would if not doom the Cardinals’ postseason hopes, at least dent them.

But is this a “must-win” game? Can there be such a thing in the second week of a 17-week season?

“No, no,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “God no.”

Very well then.

That said, it would behoove the Cardinals to come out with a win Sunday. A loss would not only mean an 0-2 start to the season, but it would also be their second defeat at home and their first to an NFC opponent. In terms of trying to earn homefield advantage as well as any potential tiebreakers, this is really a game the Cardinals can ill-afford to lose.

Everyone is aware of that, and it may be part of the reason why the players felt there was a heightened sense of focus in practice this week, as everyone talked about how the team went about its business with a different level of focus.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson said “good teams don’t lose twice (in a row),” and noted Arians always says it is up to the team’s veterans to make sure everyone has the right mentality.

“Coach always says you can’t just show up and think you’re going to win,” Peterson added. “You have to be prepared, you have to have passion, you have to have energy; you have to have that determination that you’re going to come out of this game on top.

“We have great leaders in this locker room that understand what it takes to win; now we have to get the other troops to follow us to get us back in the winning column.”

Arians himself said leaders stepping up following a loss is an important trait for a team to have.

“Any good team never wants to lose — especially if you have character — you never lose two in a row,” Arians said. “That’s always about the character in your locker room. We’ve talked about it since I’ve been here. It hasn’t happened very often, and there should be a heightened sense of urgency, especially among the veteran players, of making sure everybody’s ready to play.”

Just three times since Arians was hired in 2013 have the Cardinals lost consecutive games in the same season, and that ability to bounce back is a big reason for why the team has been so successful under his stewardship.

Really, that’s what it’s all about. While there was disappointment over opening the season with a loss all week, there was no sense of panic or worry. Instead, there is a strong belief that not only should the team play better, but that it will.

“I think there’s an added urgency of, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get in the win column,'” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “No one likes to start 0-1, you know, it’s a bad taste. So you really have that added element of getting a win.”

As for whether or not this is a game the team must win given the long-term implications, Veldheer said he does not think anyone is even really thinking that far ahead.

“We just know how important these early games are and how important it is to win every week, so that’s our goal is to go out there and win a game,” he said.

A win Sunday would not erase the previous week’s loss, but it would go a long way toward improving the Cardinals’ playoff odds, at least mathematically. For a team that has Super Bowl aspirations, an 0-2 record after a pair of home games would be a difficult pill to swallow.

Everyone is well aware of that, and yes, it has added to the matchup’s importance.

“There’s only 16 (games) in the regular season, so you have to think that they’re all ‘must-wins,'” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “This is not baseball where you play 100-plus games, or basketball that play 80-plus games.

“Every single week you’ve got to be fighting and scratching to get wins so you don’t get behind the 8-ball.”

Stories for more pre-game reading

Larry Fitzgerald has had many touchdown catches, and here are five of his best (in images).

Justin Bethel is going to continue to play on his ailing foot.

Once upon a time, Dirk Koetter was the head coach at ASU. This weekend he returns to Arizona leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

David Johnson was ranked as the top pass-catching running back in the NFL.

The Cardinals know they’ll have their hands full with second-year QB Jameis Winston.

Earl Watford will be ready to go if he is asked to replace an injured Evan Mathis Sunday.

The Cardinals will be donning a new decal on their helmets in honor of the late Nancy Bidwill.

Larry Fitzgerald explained the commercial he is featured in, the one that is filled with emotion and feelings.

Craig Morgan wrote on how it’s time for James Bettcher and the Cardinals’ defense to show and prove.

Paige Dimakos chatted with Tony Jefferson in this week’s edition of “Four Downs.”

Brandon Williams invites the challenge that will keep coming his way.

Patrick Peterson on Mike Evans would be a ‘marquee matchup’ to watch Sunday, if it happens.


– With Carson Palmer on the Cardinals and Jameis Winston on the Buccaneers, this game will feature two of the four active players who won the Heisman Trophy and were also selected first overall in the NFL Draft.

– Palmer needs 245 passing yards to pass Joe Montana for 16th place on the NFL’s all-time list. He enters the game with 40,307 career passing yards.

– Larry Fitzgerald has caught at least one pass in 180 consecutive games leading into this one.

– Chandler Jones has never had fewer than two sacks through the first two games of any of his first four NFL seasons, and with at least one against Tampa Bay that streak would stretch to five seasons.

– With a win, the Cardinals would move to 26-6 against non-NFC West opponents under Bruce Arians.

– David Johnson needs 130 or more yards from scrimmage on Sunday to become the first Cardinal player to post that kind of total in each of the first two games of a season since Ottis Anderson in 1979.

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Must-win? No, but Cardinals have sense of urgency heading into matchup with Tampa Bay