Cardinals Lose Chance to Strengthen Lead

The Cardinals had a chance to strengthen their grip on the lead in the NFC West, but their mysterious troubles at home continued in a 34-21 loss to Carolina. The Cardinals once were dominant at University of Phoenix Stadium, at least in Ken Whisenhunt's previous two seasons. Including playoffs, they were 14-4 at home under Whisenhunt.

But the Cardinals have lost three of four there this season, and needed a dramatic goal-line stand to beat Houston.

No one is sure why the club is losing at home, but maybe playing on the road this week in Chicago will get this team to focus.

"It something we've prided ourselves on the last couple years," said Whisenhunt. "It's very disappointing that we aren't playing better at home right now."

The Cardinals started to flush the loss to the Panthers soon after the game ended. While disappointed, Whisenhunt put a positive spin on the Cardinals position atop the NFC West at 4-3.

"We have to understand where we are," Whisenhunt said. "We have the same record that we (had) at this time last year. I still feel like we're a better football team. We just didn't play that way (Sunday)."

It's also true the Cardinals blew a prime opportunity. With the 49ers and Seahawks both losing, the Cardinals could have taken a two-game lead in the division.

Instead, they undid a lot of the good they had accomplished in winning the previous three games.

The run defense, which ranked first after seven weeks, yielded 270 yards to the Panthers. Kurt Warner hasn't been sharp the past two games; he had five interceptions and lost a fumble against Carolina.

More troubling is this team hasn't proven yet that it's mature enough to handle prosperity. Some people thought the Cardinals were past the point of having a mental letdown like they did against the Panthers, but the loss proved they aren't.

People were raving about them after the victory over the Giants in New Jersey, but fans were booing them at halftime Sunday.

"I've played a long time, been on a lot of different teams and it's a hard thing to do to come off a big win and parlay it into another good performance," Warner said. "You have to be able to win the big games and not let it drain you or affect you emotionally."

TRENDING: Quarterback Kurt Warner hasn't looked sharp the last two weeks. He's been antsy in the pocket and not as accurate as usual. That might be because teams aren't blitzing him much. That's odd to say, but Warner thrives against the blitz because he's so good at reading coverages and finding favorable matchups. He's seeing a lot of two-deep zones now as teams take away the long pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Warner can be impatient at times, and that's when he tends to make mistakes.

UNDER THE RADAR: Receiver Early Doucet, in his second year, could see his first action of the season this week. Starter Anquan Boldin is hurt, and Doucet could be activated to serve as the team's No. 4 receiver. A third-round pick in 2008, Doucet has been hampered by injuries in both of his NFL seasons. He's healthy now and has looked good in practice. He could have an opportunity to prove himself in Chicago.


-- WR Anquan Boldin aggravated a sprained right ankle, but the extent of the injury won't be known for a day or two. If he can't play, Steve Breaston will start. Boldin caught three passes against the Panthers, giving him 537 for his career and moving him into the all-time franchise lead. He passed fullback Larry Centers, who had 535.

-- DE Darnell Dockett aggravated a sprained right ankle but returned to the game against Carolina. Dockett hasn't missed a game in six NFL seasons.

-- CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was burned by Steve Smith for a 50-yard touchdown. Rodgers-Cromartie has a tendency to bite on double moves because he wants to get an interception. Smith and Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme burned him on such a move last week.

-- RB Tim Hightower is becoming one of Kurt Warner's favorite passing targets. Teams are taking away the deep passes to Larry Fitzgerald, and Warner is having to check down to Hightower, who has 39 receptions this season.

-- WR Larry Fitzgerald is having trouble making big plays. He's averaging 10.8 yards a reception, 4.1 fewer than last season.

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