Can the AZ Cardinals Get Past their Slump?

The Cardinals have picked an inopportune time to suffer their worst slump of the season, and this Sunday's game in New England could be pivotal as the club heads into the post-season. The Cardinals have lost three of their past four games and watched their record go from 7-3 to 8-6. They clinched the NFC West title two weeks, although it had been apparent for weeks they were going to win it.

That has played a part in their recent struggles. The Cardinals appeared emotionally flat and disinterested in their two most recent losses, at Philadelphia on Thanksgiving and last Sunday against the Vikings.

Before those losses, the Cardinals talked about how anything was possible in the playoffs, pointing to the improbable Super Bowl runs in recent years by the Steelers and Giants.

This week, the conversation has changed. The Cardinals have started referring to the development of the program as a process.

Quarterback Kurt Warner said the team is realistic about not being a favorite to win the Super Bowl, and he called this season a step toward success.

"After winning the division, a lot of people were telling us how good we were, patting us on the back, talking about the playoffs," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That obviously was a distraction and something I didn't see signs of during the week (of practice).

"But we're a work in progress and this last game (the 35-14 loss to the Vikings) is a real testament to that."

The swoon over the last month has many of the players concerned. Everyone knew the schedule toughened in the last half of the season, and the Cardinals have not responded well.

"It's a concern right now," said linebacker Karlos Dansby. "It's a wake-up call and everybody has to find out what's going on and get everything right."

That's easier said than done. Receiver Anquan Boldin is struggling in big games now. Warner hasn't been as sharp. The defense has been porous.

The Cardinals had better find the motivation switch fast. The Patriots (9-5) are fighting for a playoff berth, so they will be ready. Will the Cardinals?

"I just want the guys to know what it feels like to lose your home playoff game after you clinch the division title early," said defensive lineman Bryan Robinson, a 12-year veteran who had that happen to him in Cincinnati and Chicago. "I've been there twice, man, and you sit there like, 'What the hell just happened?'"

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Cardinals lead the series, 6-5, but the Patriots have won the past four. The Cardinals are making their first regular-season appearance at Gillette Stadium, which opened in 2002. The Cardinals have played in New England just three times since 1970. The Cardinals haven't won a road game against a team outside of the NFC West this year. They also are 0-4 in their past four games against teams with winning records and have lost three of their last four overall.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Five Cardinals were named to the Pro Bowl, the most the team has had since seven made it in 1977. Quarterback Kurt Warner and his top two receivers, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, will start. It's the first time since the merger in 1970 that a quarterback and his two receivers have started. "I think it's a great day for the Cardinals, because there have been a number of years when they've had good players and not gotten the recognition," said coach Ken Whisenhunt.

--It will be Warner's first Pro Bowl appearance since 2001. He's not sure if all seven of his kids are going, or not.

"I remember a few years there when things were going good, my kids would say every year, 'Hey, dad, when are we going to Hawaii again?'" Warner said. "I had to tell them our vacations to Hawaii were stopping."

--Boldin praised his teammates and the offensive scheme for helping him make his third Pro Bowl in six seasons. He was asked if that makes it more likely he will want to return to the team in 2009. "Honestly, I don't know," he said. "That's a situation that will have to be resolved after the season. Right now, I'm just honored to be selected and happy my teammates are going as well."

--Going this year is different than his other two trips, Boldin said. He went alone as a rookie. The Cardinals haven't had more than two players named to the Pro Bowl since 1996.

"The best part about this year is you have a lot more to go with it," Boldin said. "There is a lot more sense of joy and pride in it than in past years, with us having losing seasons and my being the only one voted into the Pro Bowl."

--OLB Clark Haggans has his left foot in a cast. He has a sprain of the LisFranc joint and has to be in the cast for at least a month. He is hoping to participate in the playoffs, but that seems a long shot.

"He (the doctor) put this cast on to make sure I didn't do something stupid and try to go running a 5K Marathon to raise some toys for Santa," Haggans said. "I'll just make a cash donation and chill."

BY THE NUMBERS: 0-4 -- That's the Cardinals' record against opponents with winning records since Oct. 12.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "After a game like that, there's no way you can say we're all on the same page. The one thing we know about this league, though, is winning cures everything." -- Defensive tackle Bryan Robinson on last week's loss to the Vikings.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Calais Campbell, a rookie, is gradually getting more playing time as a rotation player along the defensive line. Campbell has produced when given the chance this year. He also plays on several special teams.

--LB Monty Beisel is the primary backup at three of the four linebacker positions and also played in nickel situations last week. Beisel backs up the two inside linebacker spots as well as the strong side position.

--RB J.J. Arrington continues to be the team's most productive back. Arrington plays in the team's spread formations, lining up either in the backfield or in the slot. The team likes to get him isolated on linebackers using either draws, screens or other short passes.

--K Neil Rackers is enjoying one of his finest seasons. He's made 19 of his past 20 field goals and his array of kicks has been beneficial to the special teams. He's excellent on onside kicks and all three of his kickoffs last week resulted in touchbacks.

--QB Kurt Warner has committed nine turnovers in the past five games. On the road against good teams, those turnovers seem to come early. The Cardinals can't afford a slow start against the Patriots.

GAME PLAN: The Cardinals talk a lot about improving their run game but it's not going to happen. They are a passing team and the Patriots have struggled in pass coverage, so the Cardinals won't spend a lot of time handing off. The Patriots linebackers are slow and the corners are vulnerable. They'll keep safeties back to prevent big plays.

Defensively, the Cardinals give up a lot through the air, too. Opponents have 31 touchdown passes against them, the most in the NFL. The secondary was starting to play better until last week when the Vikings had four touchdown passes, including three against Rod Hood. The front seven needs to start making plays behind the line of scrimmage.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Patriots WR Randy Moss vs. Cardinals CB Rod Hood -- The Vikings burned Hood for three touchdowns last week, so expect the Patriots to go at him, too. The Cardinals play more man coverage than most teams, so Hood has to hold up.

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Patriots CB Jonathan Wilhite: Wilhite's a rookie and the Cardinals love to create mismatches with their spread formations. Fitzgerald is a strong, physical receiver who has become a better route runner and runner after the catch.

Cardinals LT Mike Gandy vs. Patriots RE Richard Seymour: Seymour has been one of the best in the business for years, and Gandy is coming off one of his poorest games in two seasons in Arizona. The Cardinals normally don't give their tackles much help.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Anquan Boldin has a sore left shoulder and missed practice on Wednesday. Boldin has some swelling, but he is hopeful of playing on Sunday. If he can't, Steve Breaston will start and Jerheme Urban will move into the No. 3 role. The Cardinals are 2-0 without Boldin this year, but they are better with him.

--RB J.J. Arrington has a sore right knee and missed practice Wednesday. He is expected to practice later this week and play on Sunday, however.

--OLB Clark Haggans has his left foot in a cast and is likely out for the season. The Cardinals are still hoping Haggans can play in the post-season, but he has a sprain of the Lis Franc joint and is supposed to keep the foot immobilized for four to six weeks.

--DE/OLB Travis LaBoy has a sprained ankle and might not be able to play. LaBoy has been slowed by several nagging injuries this season.

--ILB Pago Togafau (knee) missed the past two games but returned to practice on Wednesday.

--WR Early Doucet (hamstring) missed practice Wednesday but the injury is not believed to be serious.


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