Understanding Where the Cardinals Are

The Cardinals have talked a lot in recent weeks about building momentum for the playoffs, how they didn't want to be "one-and-done" in the postseason. But they've done nothing to dispel the notion that such a finish is likely. The 35-14 loss to the Vikings Sunday was their fourth straight loss to a playoff contender.

The Cardinals haven't beaten a team with a winning record since defeating Dallas on Oct. 12.

In fact, in their last two games against contenders -- the Eagles and Vikings -- the Cardinals have been outscored 83-34.

Two themes run through their struggles against good teams: They make mistakes early and they can't get the defensive stops to survive inefficient stretches by the offense.

The loss to the Vikings was prototypical: The Cardinals gave up a punt return for a touchdown and committed two turnovers in the first quarter. Just like that, they were down 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 28-0 at halftime.

It looked a lot like the club's losses at the Jets and at Philadelphia.

The problem last Sunday, according to the players, was motivation. The Cardinals were flat, probably because they clinched the NFC West the week before. And the Vikings were playing to maintain their lead in the NFC North.

The Cardinals had better change that mindset if they are going to win down the stretch and in their first home playoff game since 1947.

They will face a motivated Patriots team this Sunday. And in the final week, they will be playing a Seahawks team that will want to send their coach, Mike Holmgren, into his sabbatical with a victory.

"We got to come out like our back is against the wall," linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "That's how you have to approach every game. If you don't approach every game like that, you're going to get beat."

One of the Cardinals' problems has been handling success. They often suffer an emotional letdown after a big victory and are motivated only by a poor performance.

They certainly had that on Sunday against the Vikings, who seized the tiebreaking advantage over the Cardinals if the Vikings win their division.

Public perception, however, will be hard to change without a playoff victory. The Cardinals have done nothing to dispel the belief that their record is a product of a weak division. They are 5-0 against the NFC West and 3-6 against everyone else.

"We're a good football team," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We won our division; we know we're going to the playoffs. But we have to play better over these two games to prepare for that."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would love to stand up here and say that we are Super Bowl favorites but we are all realistic. We have to understand where we are in this process." -- QB Kurt Warner, on the team's development.

TRENDING: Rod Hood has been the team's best cover corner for most of the season, but teams aren't afraid to test Hood and fellow starter Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

The Cardinals play a lot of man coverage and give their cornerbacks considerable freedom in determining how they are going to play receivers.

They both are free to use press coverage or to drop off. The Vikings thought they could take advantage of Hood, and they did. Three of their four touchdown passes went to receivers who were defended by Hood. It would help if the defensive line could get to the quarterback, but it hasn't produced consistent pressure in recent weeks.


--WR Anquan Boldin has struggled early in the team's three blowout losses: at the Jets, at the Eagles and at home against the Vikings. On Sunday, Boldin dropped a pass on third down on the first possession and lost a fumble in the first quarter.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a dangerous rusher on place kicks. He got his first block on Sunday after coming close on numerous other occasions. Teammate Rod Hood returned the block 68 yards for a touchdown.

--RT Levi Brown struggled against the Vikings last week, while Vikings RB Adrian Peterson gained 165 yards rushing. They are linked because the Cardinals took Brown with the fifth overall pick in 2007, passing on Peterson, who went to Minnesota at No. 7.

--QB Matt Leinart played last Sunday for the first time since Week 2. He completed three of five throws for 28 yards.

--LB Clark Haggans missed last week's game with a sprained foot and could be out for the season. Haggans is seeking additional medical opinions but the outlook does not look good.

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