|Believe it or not, Cardinals genuine contenders in NFC West|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 19 November 2007 15:21|
The Cardinals are 5-5 under first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt, and that's good enough to be a contender in the weak NFC West.
``I feel like we should be a little better than we are,'' Whisenhunt said Monday, ``but I'm pleased with how we've responded these last two weeks and the position that we're in with six games remaining, especially with four of them at home.''
After a three-game losing streak, the Cardinals have won two in a row, the latest a 35-27 victory at Cincinnati on Sunday. They haven't been .500 this late in the season since 1998, the only year the franchise has made the playoffs since moving to Arizona in 1988.
Whisenhunt's start is the best by a new Cardinals coach since Charley Winner went 7-2-1 in 1966.
Seattle leads the NFC West at 6-4, but the Cardinals already have beaten the Seahawks. The teams have a rematch Dec. 9 in Seattle. Before that, Arizona plays San Francisco and Cleveland at home, where the Cardinals are 3-1, with victories over Seattle, Pittsburgh and Detroit - all of whom have winning records.
Just two years ago, Arizona played before a few thousand fans at Sun Devil Stadium. The Cardinals' new stadium in Glendale has been packed with loud crowds of 60,000-plus for every game.
``Just based on what I've seen, it's a big home-field advantage,'' Whisenhunt said. ``To come to our place having lost three in a row and having the kind of crowd support that we did in our last game, I'm really excited about having a chance to compete for a playoff spot and being at home.''
Whisenhunt was talking about his team's 31-21 victory over Detroit on Nov. 11. The victory followed Arizona's worst performance of the season, a 17-10 loss at Tampa Bay.
The coach and his staff simplified the offense after that one, pulling the reins in a bit on Kurt Warner, whose aggressive nature had led to some costly interceptions.
Warner has responded well. Despite having a torn ligament in his left elbow, protected by a bulky brace, he has completed 42 of 64 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns with one interception.
His completions Sunday included a no-look flip with his right hand and an underhand pass with his injured left arm.
By playing hurt, Warner has served as an example to his mostly young teammates, Whisenhunt said.
``We're trying to get the message to this team that you have to sacrifice to be successful,'' Whisenhunt said.
The last two victories wouldn't have happened, though, had it not been for turnovers. Karlos Dansby intercepted two passes against Detroit and one against Cleveland. The big show on Sunday, though, came from defensive back Antrel Rolle, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns and had a third return for a score called back by a penalty.
After his second return, Rolle did an impromptu back flip, then sprawled face-up on the ground. The celebration drew a penalty, and Whisenhunt said he was on his way to rebuke Rolle when several players stopped him.
``A number of players said, `Coach, that's his second touchdown, you can't say anything,' and I said, `You're right,''' Whisenhunt said. ``So for the record, I'll make an exception for the second interception returned for a touchdown. I'll forgive you for a celebration.''
Three TD returns would have been an NFL record.
Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh before coming to Arizona, acknowledged he has changed his approach to the game to better fit the players' abilities. He and his staff also have worked to keep the players' attention focused on preparing for the next game only.
That means no looking ahead to that Seattle game or a possible postseason run.
``I'm excited because of where our team is, because of what I see with our football team,'' Whisenhunt said. ``Their excitement, the energy that they felt after the game yesterday in the locker room, with the way they're interacting with each other.
``To have an opportunity at this time of year is exciting, so it certainly makes it easier to come in to work.''