Cardinals: Own Worst Enemy?

Packers coach Mike McCarthy understands that he can't take his team's 33-7 win over Arizona at face value. Ken Whisenhunt threw plays and players at the Packers that won't resurface in the playoffs. But there are two sides to that coin. Green Bay didn't show its full deck either, but managed to play Week 16 with the same intensity as every other week before it. Perhaps Arizona should have too.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt limited Kurt Warner in the Cardinals season finale. He handed Warner's duties off to Matt Leinart and Brian St. Pierre. Sidelined, Warner watched his team get crushed 33-7 by a team that he would ultimately face the following week. The story remained the same for the majority of the Cardinals starters.

Once the Minnesota Vikings won their game and the No. 2 playoff seed was out of reach, the first-team Cardinals didn't have much motivation to play in full-game mode against the Packers. On the flip side, Green Bay- who had nothing to lose or gain- decided to play Week 16 like any other week.

The Packers plan was to wait until the end of the third quarter to assess their position and possibly pull their starters. Due to the score at halftime, Mike McCarthy decided to play the starters one more series in the third quarter and make any possible substitutions.

"We only could make a few substitutions on defense, because we only had the seven linebackers going into the game due to the injury to Brandon Chillar," McCarthy said. "But we were able to make the 4-5 substitutions with the offense after the long series in the third quarter. That was our plan. I was very happy with the way it worked out, the quality of work that we were looking to achieve Sunday. We feel like it is important for us to stay in tune, stay sharp, and now we feel we're ready for the playoffs."

Kurt Warner

The Cardinals, however, were between a rock and a hard place in the season finale. The Cardinals success is ultimately on the shoulders of a much older quarterback than that of the Packers. With no seeding implications on the line, Whisenhunt decided to limit Warner's playing time.

The issue at hand is that even when Sunday's game pitted first-team against first-team, the Cardinals were unable to execute. Arizona lost its motivation after Minnesota sealed its fate. But as professional football players, the Cardinals should want to compete in each and every game. Perhaps they could have taken a page out of the Packers book.

"Our focus as a football team was really to complete the 16 games, to make sure we take our best football into the playoffs," McCarthy said. "I think that's a key responsibility of the head coach. Every team is different, everybody's path is different. I felt clearly it was important for us to approach this game from a week of preparation no different than we did for the first 15. I feel strongly we accomplished that. I felt very strongly we needed to approach the beginning of the game the same way, and I wanted the players to go into the game to win the game and play it like they did the first 15."

The Cardinals first 15 games was a mixed bag. Their 10 wins is nothing to cough at but their inconsistencies were. One consistency that could work in the Cardinals favor is that they've never lost back-to-back games this season.

But Green Bay has momentum on their side. The Packers ended the season on a high note and are playing playoff football. Where as the Cardinals, have to manufacture their excitement.

Whether the statement that "it's difficult to win twice against any team in the NFL" is true or too hyped up, the facts remain that the Packers will definitely pose a threat once again on Sunday.

"We're just playing good, balanced football, and really everybody is talking about our offense and defense, our special teams has played extremely well the past five or six weeks," McCarthy said. "We're playing complete football. We put together a good body of work over 16 games, and it's important for us to take this body of work into the playoffs."

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