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Still alive, Cardinals travel to Miami with playoff hopes on the line

Dec 10, 2016, 4:09 PM
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) celebrates his touchdown with Larry Fitzgerald d...
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) celebrates his touchdown with Larry Fitzgerald during the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — By virtue of their victory last week against the Washington Redskins, the Arizona Cardinals have legitimately remained in the playoff race for at least another game.

At 5-6-1 and with three of their remaining four games happening on the road, they have their work cut out for them. But, as Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd Christmas famously said in Dumb and Dumber, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance,” and for the Cardinals, there is.

“I wouldn’t say all of a sudden we have a ton of confidence that we didn’t have before, but we can get a bunch more confidence then we’ve had in the past if we can take care of this week and then next week and get on a good roll,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Winning cures all and makes everything better, especially after a two-game skid.”

Indeed, the Cardinals are in a better position now than they were just one week ago. For arguably the first time all season, they played a complete game in the victory over Washington, with the offense, defense and special teams all coming up big.

“We finally played collectively as a team,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “It was fun to watch and we’re going to need that for the rest of these games we have in the season.”

As comfortable as that victory may have been, it was played at home. While the Cardinals have not been as good at University of Phoenix Stadium this season as they have in the past, their 4-2-1 mark in the building is certainly better than the 1-4 record they have posted on the road.

And, in games with early start times, they are 0-4, with an average score of 32.75 to 20.25.

“See if this team can figure out how to play on the east coast,” head coach Bruce Arians admitted. “It’s obviously a big game, and really looking forward to it.”

The Cardinals are not the first western team to struggle on the opposite coast, though they do not believe there is much to the idea of it being tougher to play a couple of time zones away.

“I think everybody makes such a big deal of it,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Football is football. It doesn’t matter where you play or what time; you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to execute.

“The plays are the same. You’ve just got to come out with energy and passion. That’s all it is. Football is about want-to. You have to be able to just go out there and do what you need to do, impose your will on your opponent. I think too much is made about where you’re playing, what time you’re playing. None of that really matters.”

The key to winning away from home, Arians said, lies in starting fast. He pointed to slow starts against Buffalo and Carolina that set them back. As for what happened in Minnesota and Atlanta, the coach noted that they started well, but were unable to sustain.

But in an effort to help curtail any ill effects of early kickoffs, Arians has his team practice early in the morning in Arizona in an effort to get acclimated to the idea of being ready to play back east.

“My mindset is treat it the same way,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said, noting the practice times. “It shouldn’t be an issue. I wouldn’t expect it to be an issue this game. It has, a couple times, but hey, there’s no excuse. This is football — if you have to play at 10 o’clock or 10 o’clock in the morning, it shouldn’t affect you. You just go out there and play the game.”

Win this one, and the Cardinals will even their record and remain a playoff contender. Lose, however, and what has otherwise been a disappointing season will, at least unofficially, meet its end.

With so much on the line, Arians said “yes and no” when asked if he changes the way he coaches, perhaps pulling out all the stops in order to win.

“I mean, you always say play smart, not scared,” he said.

Linebacker Kevin Minter said he has noticed a change in the team’s demeanor of late, with the feeling that they are playing playoff games right now.

“But if we really want to play in the real playoffs in January, we can’t lose any of these,” he added. “I feel like you can tell that’s on everybody’s mind right now.”

That does not mean the Cardinals are looking past the Dolphins toward the Saints, Seahawks or Rams; rather, it’s an admission of the reality they face.

“We know exactly where we are, what we need to do,” Fitzgerald said. “We need to win out and we need a little help down the stretch.”

The receiver added the only thing the Cardinals can do is control what they can, which is their effort and performance.

“We’re going to have a tough game down in Miami,” he said. “It’s going to be hot, it’s going to be humid, it’s going to be different climates, and we have to block all of that out and just go out there and do what we have to do. Whatever it takes to get out of there with a win, we need it.”

Some stories for pregame reading

Take a look at the playoff picture as it pertains to the Cardinals’ Wild Card hopes

Bruce Arians says he has no plans of retiring after this season

Larry Fitzgerald continues to climb the record book ladder

Calais Campbell has had an underrated season

As players around him have improved, so too has Carson Palmer

David Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu were recognized as two of the NFL’s best players under 25

Doug Franz wrote on how the Cardinals are in full must-win now mode

Patrick Peterson will be facing off with his childhood team in a stadium he used to watch games in Sunday

ESPN’s Ron Jaworski thinks the Cardinals will, in fact, be a playoff team

David Johnson has remained humble even in the face of making NFL history

Thinking legacy, Calais Campbell talked about returning to Miami

Larry Fitzgerald wants to continue to raise the bar as the Cardinals’ Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year

Unlike Jaworski, ESPN’s John Clayton doesn’t think the Cardinals have a playoff run in them

In Four Downs, Paige Dimakos chatted with tackle D.J. Humphries

New Cardinals punter Matt Wile thinks he handled holding well in practice this week

In this week’s Paulie Pigskin Report, Paul Calvisi brought up three things he’s not buying leading into the game

Miscellany 

– The Cardinals have won three straight games against the Dolphins, including a 24-23 win over Miami the last time these teams faced off in Florida in 2004.

– With a win, Bruce Arians would notch his 40th win as the Cardinals’ coach, putting him alone in third place on the franchise’s all-time wins list.

– With a catch, Larry Fitzgerald’s streak of consecutive game with a reception would be extended to 192. Incidentally, the streak began in Week 9 of the 2004 season, when the Cardinals won in Miami.

– With 100 receiving yards, Fitzgerald would pass Reggie Wayne for ninth on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.

– If David Johnson tallies at least 100 yards from scrimmage, he would join Edgerrin James as the only players in history to accomplish that feat in the first 13 games to open a season. At the same time, he would also join Barry Sanders and Marcus Allen (along with James) as the only players in NFL history to accumulate at least 100 yards in 13 consecutive games at any point in a season.

– With a touchdown catch, Johnson would be come the first Cardinal since Anquan Boldin in 2008 to score a receiving touchdown in five straight games.

– If Carson Palmer throws for at least 300 yards, he would tie Kurt Warner for the most 300-yard passing games in franchise history, at 22. With a pair of touchdown passes, Palmer would have at least 20 TD passes in a season for the third time as a Cardinal, putting him with Warner and Neil Lomax as the only QBs in franchise history with at least 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns in three separate seasons.

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