NFC West Still Up for Grabs

What a difference a game makes. After last week's loss to the Tennessee Titans, the Cardinals are in jeopardy of losing first place in the NFC West if they lose to the VIkings this week. Here is a snapshot of the division and where the Cardinals stand....

The Cardinals' lead in the NFC West is down to two games, and if they lose to the Vikings Sunday, next week's game at the 49ers could mean the division title.

The 49ers would need to beat Seattle and the Cardinals would have to lose to Minnesota. That would give the Cardinals a one-game lead going into the Monday night game at Candlestick.

If the 49ers win that game, they will have control of the division since they will have beaten the Cardinals twice this season.

The Cardinals swear they aren't looking that far ahead. And just minutes after the loss at Tennessee last Sunday, players already were talking about facing the Vikings.

"For us to come out on the short end of the stick still leaves a salty taste in our mouth," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "But Coach Whisenhunt always talks about that 24-hour rule, so as soon as we're done looking at tapes today we're just going to move on, and our focus is on Minnesota."

The Cardinals know all too well the challenge they have Sunday night against the Vikings. Minnesota beat them, 35-14, last year in Arizona, a score that doesn't begin to describe the Vikings' dominance in the game.

The Vikings led 28-0 at halftime. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, now a backup, threw four touchdown passes. Adrian Peterson rushed for 165 yards.

"It got of hand quick," Whisenhunt said. "When you return a punt for a touchdown, when you throw a bomb, that's what got it out of hand quick. Looking back, we had some opportunities on the offensive side to make play early. All of a sudden we're down 28-0 and that's tough, especially against a team like that."

SERIES HISTORY: 20th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead, 10-9, including a 35-14 win last season. The Vikings dominated the Cardinals physically in that game, leading 28-0 at halftime. The Vikings rushed for 239 yards and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw four touchdown passes. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner passed 50 times and the offense produced only one touchdown.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Sunday night will be the third time the Cardinals have played in prime time this year. They have a Monday night game next week, so the four appearances will the most in one season in the team's history.

--Kurt Warner and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre have thrown for 99,310 yards. That's the equivalent of 56.4 miles.

--The Cardinals have scored touchdowns in the red zone 81.8 percent of the time over the past six games. Arizona's 71.1 percentage overall leads the NFL.

--Coach Ken Whisenhunt was asked if it would be "fun" coming up with a game plan for the Vikings defense.

"I don't know if 'fun' is the exact word," Whisenhunt said, "but we'll certainly come up with something that we think will work. . . . You always have to mix your coverages, because you can't give a guy like Brett Favre a bead on what you're doing or he'll tear you up. Hopefully, we do enough things to keep him off balance."

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- The Cardinals faced the first and second rushers in the NFL the past two weeks. Now they will take on No.3, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. Tennessee's Chris Johnson gained 154 yards and the Rams Steve Jackson had 115.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The hard thing is to make that decision where you feel like you could be hurting your team, but you don't know whether you're putting yourself at risk or not." -- QB Kurt Warner on playing with a concussion.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

RB Beanie Wells continues to struggle with ball security, one reason Tim Hightower is hanging on the starting job. Wells has fumbled pitchouts the past two games, but he's dangerous when he does hang on to the ball.

The Cardinals are thin at linebacker and the lack of depth is starting to show. They aren't getting much production from right outside linebackers Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor. And with rookies Will Davis and Cody Brown out with injuries, they don't have many alternatives.

The club has used two tight end sets more often in recent weeks, so the third receiver, Steve Breaston, isn't getting the ball as much. Breaston has four catches in the past two games. His average per game was almost five before then.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, a seventh round pick, is contributing more than anyone expected. He leads the team in special teams tackles and he returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown last week.

--CB Michael Adams is only 5-8 so teams try to pick on him in coverage. But Adams is a fierce competitor and a willing tackler. He plays the run better than the pass.

--C Lyle Sendlein is enjoying a consistent season after struggling last year with a shoulder injury. Sendlein is stouter at the point of attack and he's very smart. He makes all the line calls.


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