For the Cardinals, this Sunday vs. Washington is ‘all that matters’
Dec 3, 2016, 7:56 AM
(AP Photo/David Goldman)
TEMPE, Ariz. — It’s one of those sports cliches, how a team ignores the standings because the only thing that matters is the next game on the schedule.
But it’s also not an easy thing to do entering Week 13 of the NFL season when you are 4-6-1, as the Cardinals are, and watching a once-promising season slowly slip away.
“It’s hard to, I’m being honest, but at the same time too, if you start looking past (opponents), that’s when you start getting run over by the teams you’re looking past,” linebacker Kevin Minter said.
If the Cardinals win their next five games, which is no small order, they will have a decent chance at making the playoffs as one of the NFC’s Wild Card teams. If they lose again this season, however, whatever slim chance they did have will likely evaporate.
One game at a time. How’s that for another cliche?
“You win one, you can possibly win two in a row, but you can’t win two unless you win one,” head coach Bruce Arians said.
And the Cardinals certainly can’t win five if they don’t win one, so the way they see it, what’s the point of even worrying about the standings?
As of now, the Cardinals hold the 12th spot in the NFC playoff race. They are two games behind Sunday’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, but with five teams between them, there is not only a lot of ground to make up, but teams to leap over.
It’s not an ideal situation, nor is it a familiar one after the last few seasons.
“Around that time, we were where we were,” Minter said of recent seasons. “We were one of the top in the league; obviously not as much pressure — we weren’t as desperate.”
Minter, however, said it’s “kind of cool” being where they are, with their backs against the wall needing to play every game as if it is a playoff game.
“If we don’t bring it, we’re not playing in any postseason, we’re not playing in the postseason,” he said. “So we better get it right.”
If ever there was a time for the Cardinals to figure things out, this is it. Mathematically, there may not be any more chances.
So, how do they do it?
“I feel like we prepare well, we feel like our coaches prepare us well,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “At the end of the day, on Sundays, it’s our job to go out there, execute plays, play at a high level, play to the best of our abilities. We’ve just been inconsistent when it came to just us playing up to our potential.”
Offering up one more sports cliche, it is said that you are what your record shows, and for the Cardinals, that would be a team that is just scraping to be .500. Given the lofty preseason expectations, it’s fair to wonder if they are better than that.
But looking at their play, it’s difficult to argue they are not. Yet, the feeling that permeates through the locker room is one of them absolutely being more talented than they’ve shown.
“We’re more pissed off that we dug this deep of a hole right now,” Minter said. “We could easily be a one or two-loss team, right now, and we know we pissed away a lot of games this year. It’s just more frustration in that aspect, than anything.”
That frustration — and desire to get back in the win column — will be focused on this Sunday only.
“Never changes,” Arians said. “Nobody knows what the final statistics are going to be for the Wild Card matchups, and a lot of other things can happen with five games left in a season, so you just keep coming to work every day and respect the process.”
Beat Washington and the Cardinals will not only earn a win but gain a tiebreaker over one of the teams they are trying to pass in the playoff race. They would still have plenty of work to do in order to reach the postseason, but at least they would still be in the conversation.
That kind of talk is down the road, though. For now, the Cardinals are more nearsighted.
“What we do in Miami (in Week 14) doesn’t even matter if we don’t take care of business this week against the Redskins,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “For us to look forward to what we need to do down the road doesn’t have anything to do with what we need to accomplish on Sunday.
“The Redskins are in a pretty similar position that we are; they’re right there neck-and-neck with the Giants and obviously chasing Dallas for that division. They’re fighting, scratching, just like we are. So we’ve got to be the more hungry, dedicated and desperate team when we play.”
That’s not to imply the Cardinals have not been a hungry team or played hard, because to a man no one has made it sound like the effort has not been there. It’s just the results that are missing, and without them, you have this kind of a season.
No one expected the Cardinals to be in this position, at least not when the campaign began. But here they are, needing a win to keep their season alive. It’s not where they wanted to be, but not the end of the world — yet.
Quarterback Carson Palmer said it feels like the ball has not bounced their way this season and things have not gone as well as they want, but they are still in the thick of it.
“There is not one guy in that locker room that thinks, ‘Aww man let’s start thinking about next year,'” he said. “There are a lot of weird records right now in this league. There are a lot of teams in the NFC in the hunt, and we’re one of them. That’s all that matters. This Sunday is really all that matters.”
Stories for pre-game reading
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ESPN’s John Clayton sees Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin as a future head coach
Tony Jefferson talked contract decisions and supposed chemsitry issues
The Cardinals are hosting a toy drive prior to Sunday’s game
One year has made quite a difference for Cardinals tackle D.J. Humphries
Chris Johnson’s season is over, but he believes his career is not finished yet
David Johnson earned a vote for being the best running back in the NFL in an ESPN panel
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The Cardinals are aware of the kind of dynamic offense Washington brings to the table
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This week’s Four Downs featured guest Deone Bucannon
The Cardinals defense seems to have responded well from Arians’ harsh words
– Old NFC East rivals, this will be the 123rd matchup all-time between the Cardinals and Redskins; the only team the Arizona franchise has faced more is the New York Giants, whom they have faced 126 times.
– A victory would improve Arizona’s record to 6-1 against teams from the NFC East under Arians. The only loss up to this point was a 2013 defeat in Philadelphia, where the Eagles prevailed 24-21.
– Arians enters the game one win away from tying Jim Hanifan for third place on the franchise all-time wins list.
– With four catches, Larry Fitzgerald would become the youngest player in NFL history to reach 1,100 career catches at 33 years and 95 days old. One reception would give him a catch in 191 consecutive games, and six catches would see him pass Cris Carter and tie Marvin Harrison for third on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.
– Carson Palmer is two touchdown passes away from passing Vinny Testaverde for 14th place on the NFL’s all-time passing TD list.
– With 79 yards, David Johnson would become the 10th player in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and be the first to do so since Beanie Wells ran for 1,047 yards in 2011. He would also join Ottis Anderson and John David Crow as the only players in franchise history to reach 1,000 yards in the first 12 games of a season.
– Sticking with Johnson, one touchdown would give him 14 on the season, and make him the first Cardinal since Roy Green in 1983 with 14 touchdowns in a season.
– Last season, the Cardinals had 56 different players who appeared in at least one game. So far this year, they have already used 62 different guys. In all, Arizona has had 25 players miss a combined 93 games due to injury.