The playoffs are a long-ago dream, but the Cardinals still can have a hand in it. This week, the Bears — reeling as they are — come to town losers of 5 of their last six after a 7-1 start. Once the playoffs seemed a foregone conclusion. But if Minnesota pulls off an upset in Houston in an early game Sunday, then the Cardinals would eliminate the Bears from the postseason if they can beat Jay Cutler’s crew.
“In order for us to be relevant, we have to win,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “This time of year everybody knows what has to happen for their football team. We are aware of the path we have to take.”
The Cards actually could be in position to do some damage in both the final two games. In the finale at San Francisco, the 49ers could have something on the line. If the Niners lose in Seattle this weekend, they could actually lose the division title the following week if the Cards won. Even if the Niners clinch this weekend by toppling the Seahawks, San Francisco will likely have a chance to clinch a first-round bye on the line in the final week.
What’s amazing is the difference a week makes. The Lions, playing poorly, came into University of Phoenix Stadium as the favorite last week because the Cardinals were on their nine-game losing streak. Now, it seems, many believe the Cardinals have a good shot to knock off the Bears and cripple their playoff chances. At this point, it’s what the Cards have to play for.
Tags: 49ers, Bears, Lions, Lovie Smith, playoffs, Seahawks
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The Cardinals are the 10th seed in the NFC right now. Their playoff chances are very, very slim. They must win their last two games to finish 9-7 and have any measurable hope.
There are two wild card spots up for grabs. The Falcons and Lions are both 9-5, so either one need just win one of their final two games to eliminate the Cards. So one of those teams, at least, must lose both their final two games. The Seahawks won’t matter because the Cards face them head-to-head (and would have knocked them out to go 9-7).
The Cards don’t want to tie the Giants because the Giants beat them; a tie with the Cowboys is OK because the Cards beat them (in a tie for the wild card and not the NFC East title). UPDATE: As has been pointed out to me by a few people, the Cards can’t tie the Giants in a win-out situation because the Giants would win the East in that case. It boils down to the Falcons or Lions losing out (and the Bears losing at least one more).
• Atlanta is the No. 5 seed ahead of Detroit based on head to head (1-0).
• Seattle finishes ahead of Chicago and N.Y. Giants based on head to head sweep (2-0).
• Chicago finishes ahead of Arizona and N.Y. Giants based on conference record (6-4 to the Cardinals’ 6-5 and the Giants’ 4-7).
• N.Y. Giants finish ahead of Arizona based on head to head (1-0).
In a nutshell, it’s the Falcons (at New Orleans, home versus a bad Tampa Bay team) and the Lions (at home against San Diego, at a Green Bay team that may not have anything to fight for) to watch.
We’ll obviously know much more after this weekend. Like whether the Seattle at Cards game will mean anything more than just second place in the NFC West.
(To view a breakdown of the NFL’s tie-breaking procedures go to http://www.nfl.com/standings/tiebreakingprocedures).
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Let’s make this short and sweet. I became a writer in part because math was never my thing. The folks at sportsclubstats.com do the math, however, and their math says that — assuming the Cardinals finish the season winning their last three games to get to 9-7 — that they have a 36.1 percent chance to make the playoffs. They also say the most likely matchup if that happened would be a wild-card game in New Orleans.
Of course, that — again — means the Cards have to finish the regular season on a six-game winning streak just to have a slightly better than one-in-three opportunity. And it doesn’t matter, since I said I wasn’t talking such possibilities until the Cards got to .500 anyway. Right?
(h/t to @jason62082 on Twitter)
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The latest in a series of offseason posts looking back:
When all that noise cropped up around the Cardinals in January of 2009 – the stuff about that team being the worst in playoff history, etc., etc., — I remember thinking, “This team is better than the last Cardinal playoff team.”
Turned out both squads ended up shocking the world. Back in 1998, it might have been an even bigger deal.
The Cards barely squeezed into the playoffs as a wild card (remember, the 2008 Cards clinched the division relatively early). Their first playoff game in years would come in Dallas, against the NFC East rival Cowboys – a team that had beaten the Cards 16 of the previous 17 meetings and who had crushed the Cards, 38-10, in Dallas to open the 1998 season. Forget Cris Collinsworth. The general feeling of the Cards was as a team lucky to be in the playoffs, and probable to fall to the Cowboys – a once-great team that was very ordinary by this time.
The numbers added fuel to the critics’ fire, especially the weakness of the Cards’ schedule (Arizona’s opponents had a .395 winning percentage). On the other side, there was a young team with so much future potential, like rookie defensive end Andre Wadsworth, who at that point was improving after his crazy debut in Dallas earlier in the year (Oh, what could have been). Jake Plummer was the quarterback who was definitely a winner. Cornerback Aeneas Williams was a Pro Bowler who was one of the few in the NFL who had proven he could handle star Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin.
The Cards, at that point, hadn’t won a playoff game since 1947 – the year they won the NFL championship. “My Dad wasn’t even born yet,” guard Chris Dishman said. They had history against them, and a still-potent Emmitt Smith (if you would have suggested then that Smith would eventually be a Cardinal …), but the Cards had played the Cowboys close at Sun Devil Stadium late in the year.
Foreshadowing? Not really. Not after the Cowboys scored 38 and 35 on the Cards in the two regular-season games, only to be shut down for seven points in the playoff game. The Cardinals stunned the Cowboys in a 20-7 win, and that Dallas touchdown came late, with the game all but decided. The cornerback tandem of Corey Chavous and Williams had three interceptions, and safety Tommy Bennett added one in the final seconds for emphasis. Wide receiver Frank Sanders hauled in a 59-yard Plummer pass to set up a score and running back Adrian Murrell broke off a 74-yard run to set up another.
That was all the Cards really needed, the way the defense performed. Slaying the Cowboys was about the present but it was also about unloading on the pre-game disrespect. It was about a fan base starving for success.
It was also short-lived.
The Cards turned their attention to the powerful Vikings for the following week, but that didn’t end well. In the offseason, the Cards lost key players like Larry Centers, Lomas Brown and Jamir Miller and never did battle again for a playoff spot until the magical season a decade later –with the 2008 team that supposedly had too many warts itself. That ride lasted a lot longer.
But for those moments in 1998, when it seemed like the Cards were never going to have any success, the Dallas domination was something to savor.
Tags: Adrian Murrell, Aeneas Williams, Andre Wadsworth, Chris Dishman, Corey Chavous, Cowboys, Cris Collinsworth, Emmitt Smith, Frank Sanders, Jake Plummer, Jamir Miller, Larry Centers, Lomas Brown, Michael Irvin, playoffs, Revisionist history, Tommy Bennett, Vikings
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Not going to lie — with players scattered and coaches in Alabama, there’s not a whole lot to write about right now. Thanks to Twitter, we know Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett flew out to the Pro Bowl today (and I am assuming Adrian Wilson did too). News on the defensive coordinator is unlikely, because as has been noted a couple of times, waiting for the Steelers to finish their season is probably part of the equation.
If there is enough interest, maybe I can do another live chat later this week.
So I leave you with this: Before this postseason, the Cardinals were the last team each of the current Super Bowl participants played in the playoffs. Perhaps you remember the games?
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Larry Fitzgerald, Packers, playoffs, Steelers
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Last year at this time (at least, as I am writing) I was also sitting on a plane coming back from a road trip in the second round of the playoffs. Obviously, that had a whole different feel. Saturday certainly didn’t go the way the Cardinals wanted it to go. There really aren’t any true regrets, because it felt like the Saints were going to find a way on their home turf.
I mentioned about a billion times (OK, exaggeration) this past week how, if the Cards could not lose the turnover battle, they had a good chance to win. Saturday, they come up with that amazing 70-yard run to start, and, even after the Saints answered (a little too easily), that next play was a 28-yard gain to a wide-open Jerheme Urban … and then Urban allowed himself to get stripped from behind and the ball was lost.
That was the beginning of the end.
Had Urban hung on, maybe the Cards march down and take a 14-7 lead. But the injuries mounted. Had Antrel Rolle not suffered a concussion, maybe he makes the tackle missed by Rolle backup Hamza Abdullah on the screen to Devery Henderson – which, after the blown tackle, was the play on which DRC wrecked his left knee. Maybe if the game was closer Kurt Warner doesn’t throw the pass picked off by Will Smith and, in the process of chasing the play, gets hurt when he is drilled by Bobby McCray.
Teams need health to win, however. Even the kickers were banged up. Neil Rackers knew it was going to be tough to make that 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half his right groin was hurting so bad. He had no chance on the second-half kickoff either. And punter Ben Graham would’ve had a little better opportunity to at least angle Reggie Bush out of bounds on his 83-yard punt return, except Graham can’t sprint with a bad left groin pull.
No use dwelling, however. As for a few other kibbles and bits from the game …
– The defense played arguably the two best offenses in the NFL the last two weeks and had trouble stopping them. The Packers scored 35 second-half points last game and the Saints had 35 in the first half Saturday. There was more bad tackling but the Cards needed more of everything. “It’s frustrating,” defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said. “You want to win every down and you can’t win every down.” It doesn’t need to be every down, but it has to be more downs that what was happening.
– Who says Tim Hightower can’t break away for a home-run sprint like his 70-yarder (pictured below). How the Beanie/Hightower combo continues to evolve when it comes to playing time may be one of the more interesting — and crucial – stories of this team heading into 2010.
– It’s always tough to pressure Drew Brees anyway, and the Cards were limited when Rolle and DRC got hurt. Greg Toler was going to play more in lieu of Michael Adams, but Adams was forced in once the injuries cropped up. The Saints took advantage, and that’s why coach Ken Whisenhunt didn’t want to blitz more. It was an ugly catch-22.
– Cornerback Bryant McFadden had his issues and it will be interesting to see if the Cards go try for veteran help or if Toler can wrest the starting job away. Toler is still very raw. And now you have the knee issue of DRC that, if indeed needs major surgery, will keep DRC off the field all offseason at the least.
– Warner took the blame for the bad exchange between he and Beanie Wells to start the Cards’ third possession. The Saints were in a possible safety blitz and Warner is supposed to blow off the handoff and make a quick throw in that case. But at the snap the safety sprinted back into the hot read’s passing window, and Warner tried to pull off the handoff. He just missed.
– Before you ask, I don’t know what Kurt Warner is going to do. I know everyone on the Cards desperately hopes he returns. I don’t know if that will mean enough for him. I’d like to see him play out this one final year of his contract and give this group one more shot.
– The Cards will have their exit physicals tomorrow morning. It’ll be a short night, but after Saturday, I think everyone is ready to put the season to bed and heal up mentally and physically.
Tags: Antrel Rolle, Beanie Wells, Ben Graham, Bryant McFadden, Darnell Dockett, DRC, Greg Toler, Hamza Abdullah, Jerheme Urban, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Michael Adams, Neil Rackers, playoffs, Saints, Tim Hightower
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CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie just hurt his left knee, it looks like, and was carried off the field, and safety Antrel Rolle isn’t playing right now either (nothing has been officially reported).I will update as soon as I have more information. UPDATE: DRC is doubtful to return with a left knee injury.
Meanwhile, the tackling issues haven’t gotten fixed, and the Saints have a 21-7 lead after an electrifying 46-yard touchdown run (when CB Bryant McFadden missed a tackle at the line of scrimmage). It was the longest playoff run ever for the Saints.
Tags: Antrel Rolle, Bryant McFadden, DRC, playoffs, Saints
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The 70-yard touchdown run by Tim Hightower on the Cards’ first play from scrimmage tied the Cards’ second-longest in playoff history. Adrian Murrell had a 74-yard TD run against Dallas in the 1998 playoffs, and Elmer Angsman had a 70-yard run in the 1947 championship game.
Wow. What a start.
Tags: playoffs, Tim Hightower
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The stat of the weekend, bar none: Once the current NFL playoff setup began in 1990, the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed – which obviously got a bye in the first round – won their initial playoff game 17 seasons in a row.
Then the Giants conquered the Cowboys two years ago. And then the Eagles beat the Giants last year.
The Cardinals will try and make it three straight in New Orleans against the No. 1-seeded Saints.
While you let those facts marinate, a few more things to touch upon going into the Divisional round:
– Larry Fitzgerald had two touchdowns last week, including that spectacular one-handed diving catch in the end zone. But he’s a slacker – the 6-catch, 82-yard effort was actually Fitz’s worst playoff game. Of course, that just underscores how unreal Fitz was in the playoffs last year (four games of more than 100 yards). I am pretty sure the Cards will take 6-82-2 every week.
– It was understandable everyone wanted to talk Early Doucet this week after he had his breakout game. But Steve Breaston – who had 125 yards receiving on seven catches – seemed to be ignored in many ways, even though he was great while getting his first 100-yard game of the season.
“I’m just the forgotten man, but it’s never bothered me,” Breaston said. “My whole thing was to be accountable to the team. My coaches and teammates know what I did. I don’t like to get into all that. I told Early the other day I was so proud of him, the stuff he did in the game, showing what he could do on the field. I don’t think, ‘Oh, I’m overshadowed.’ ”
Then Breaston grinned. “Someone will have to pay attention one day.”
– I know I mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating: The Cardinals, under coach Ken Whisenhunt, are now 29-3 when they are even or win the turnover battle and just 2-19 when they lose it. If you want a barometer for who will win, that’s the column to watch.
– Here’s a new stat I wasn’t aware of, however: Including playoffs, the Cards have scored at least 30 points in 23 games. The Cards have won 21 of those games, including 15 in a row. Seems to bode well for a shootout. And if you look at the Cards’ postseasons, there’s only one game they haven’t score 30 (damn you James Harrison).
– The Saints have something going with the city of New Orleans that most teams do not have. That, quarterback Drew Brees said, comes in part because a good chunk of players arrived in the 2006 offseason, right after Hurricane Katrina and those players “feel a sense of responsibility to our fans and our city.”
I wonder, however, if that increases the pressure on the team to come through Saturday. It’s about more than just advancing, it’s about keeping a city’s hopes alive.
“We want to win for them because it does so much for their psyche in regards to lifting their spirits and giving them hope,” Brees said. “The rebuilding process is still very much going on here. I know how much they believe in us and lean on us.
“For us, it’s not necessarily feeling it adds pressure but more so gives us strength knowing we have that fan base behind us.”
– That fan base will be loud, but the Cards believe they will be prepared. Once, going on the road in this situation would be a problem, but no longer. There was never a fear of road trips, but there was never this quiet confidence from the Cards’ locker room either before they climbed on a plane. They seem to understand it’s just another football game, it just happens to be in a different venue than the one in Glendale.
– There is no question Brees is a great quarterback, but Adrian Wilson put the brakes on saying the two are alike. “Kurt is a two-time MVP, has numerous Super Bowl appearances, so to say Drew is like Kurt, I wouldn’t say that,” Wilson said. “You can compare the two, but the things Kurt has done in his career compared to what Drew has done, not taking anything away from Drew because Drew is a great player, but Kurt has done a lot.”
– My two cents on the Antrel Rolle-Michael Silver debate: I can see both sides. I don’t know what happened. I have been around plenty of players who say something and later wish they had not. Obviously, Silver (whom I know and who’s always been good to me) has had his controversies around this team, like the Matt Leinart “ride or die” interview in 2007. But to me, the bottom line is this: When I talked to Rolle after the game, he was effusive in his praise of Aaron Rodgers. That’s all he was thinking about that evening. And really, if the Saints need to get revved up over any perceived slights, maybe they aren’t in the best place. (Then again, teams, coaches and players use perceived slights and even made-up slights all the time to get jacked up. It’s a fact of NFL life).
– It’ll be interesting to see if the Cards are willing to turn to rookie cornerback Greg Toler should Michael Adams struggle again.
– Even if Anquan Boldin suits up Saturday – and I would still lean toward him not – it won’t be as the normal Anquan. It’ll be a situation where he’d only play 30 or so plays, when the Cards are using multiple receiver sets. Again, given needs up and down the roster, I don’t know if you can afford to have active such a part-time player.
– I’m not counting on linebacker Gerald Hayes playing either.
OK, that was a long one. Time to wrap this up, given that we have a flight shortly to New Orleans. I have no idea how this one is going to turn out, but I do think the key will be the start. If the Cards can stay settled and not be rattled early (like, say, have two turnovers in the first quarter, right Packers?) I think they have a good chance to win. If they can get a lead and force worry into the Superdome crowd, even better. If they let the Saints jump out early and get the crowd even more excited, that’s a problem.
We’ll see. It’d be nice to be getting ready for a charter flight again late next week too.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Drew Brees, Early Doucet, Gerald Hayes, Greg Toler, Ken Whisenhunt, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Adams, playoffs, Saints, Steve Breaston
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Antrel Rolle was exhausted and he said as much in the locker room after Sunday’s 51-45 overtime win. Rolle had an excuse, since he had barely practiced for two weeks before taking part in the Wild Card track meet. But I don’t know how the Cards can’t be shot, mentally and physically, and now they have one less day before traveling cross country for another playoff game.
Then again, as Adrian Wilson said without hesitation, “Next.”
What a game. The range of emotions … I mean, I was like everyone else in the building, believing it was over when Neil Rackers trotted on to the field, and believing it was over when the Packers won the coin flip before overtime. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. “It’s one of those games you hate to play great and not go away with a victory,” quarterback Kurt Warner said, and fortunately, the Cards don’t have to worry about that.
It’s getting late (that’s pretty much an Aftermath theme, no?) so some of my post-midnight thoughts:
– Larry Fitzgerald joked that Warner was going to play another four or five years. That’s not going to happen, but man, it’ll be tough to see him walk away knowing he still can play like this. How are these numbers, by the way: In Warner’s last three playoff games – the NFC Championship, the Super Bowl, and Sunday – Warner has 1,035 yards passing and 12 touchdown passes. That’s just sick.
– I do not want to get into the whole Anquan Boldin debate right now, and I will say for the record I hope Boldin can make it back for the Saints game because I think that would be important. But – and it may simply be coincidence – Warner has thrown 10 touchdown passes (with zero interceptions) in the two games Boldin has missed, at Chicago and then Sunday against Green Bay. They were the Cards’ two highest scoring games of the season.
– Oh, did anyone notice the Cards gouged the NFL’s top rushing defense for 156 yards? It was the quietest big rushing day I’ve ever seen. Beanie Wells had 91 yards on 14 carries and it was lost in the shuffle. The Cards averaged 6.8 yards a carry. Take that, Rodney Harrison.
– LaRod Stephens-Howling played a impressive offensive role. He made a big catch for a first down in the red zone to set up the Cards’ first TD and added an 18-yard run (which also had a facemask penalty tagged on the back end) to set up another score. “It felt good to be in the offense as much as I was today,” he said. “That’s just an electric feeling to be out there.”
– What a physical battle between Fitzgerald and Charles Woodson today. Woodson got his hands up in the facemask of Fitzgerald on one play – isn’t that a penalty? – and then stripped Fitzgerald for a big fumble that may have kept the Cards from sealing the game much, much earlier than it was. But Fitzgerald slipped Woodson later for his first TD when Woodson fell down, and then Fitzgerald made a beautiful, diving one-handed catch for a touchdown after giving a little love tap to Woodson – isn’t that a penalty? – to clear some space. Woodson may be named NFL defensive player of the year this week, but Fitz gets to keep playing.
– Absolutely love seeing Gabe Watson and Darnell Dockett in the backfield. Dockett is lobbying for the ball. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, at least hearing it from Dockett, might not be all that keen on the idea. Still, with the way Fox broke down Dockett’s blocking on Tim Hightower’s touchdown Sunday, “I’m definitely going to TiVo that play if nothing else.”
– The Packers averaged exactly one turnover per game this season. Sunday, they had three. The Packers averaged 2.5 turnovers forced per game. Sunday, they had one. Just a huge victory by the Cards, who were turnover-creating machines in the playoffs last year as well.
– Michael Adams is one of my favorite people on the Cardinals. It’s hard not to root for the guy. So the ending against the Packers was good to see. It’s tough to remember another player playing as rocky of a game as Adams did Sunday and still getting a chance at late redemption.
– Rolle, on Aaron Rodgers: “That dude is phenomenal. He’s a true champion and a true warrior and I don’t want to play him again.” No worries, Antrel. It’s Drew Brees time. The Cards are on to the Divisional round.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle, Beanie Wells, Charles Woodson, Darnell Dockett, Gabe Watson, Kurt Warner, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Adams, Neil Rackers, Packers, playoffs
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