SEATTLE (AP) -A year ago, Ken Whisenhunt was an offensive coordinator deferring to Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh. Kurt Warner was old and getting booed in the desert as an injury replacement for quarterback Matt Leinart.
And the Cardinals were, well, the Cardinals.
Now, surprise! Whisenhunt and Warner are raising Arizona.
``We've come a long way in a year,'' said Whisenhunt, now the head man of an Arizona team that has gone from 5-11 last season to playoff contention this December.
Soaring heights for the team that has been the Halley's comet of the NFL, with one postseason appearance in the last 25 years.
e final three weeks of the schedule.
``This is a big one,'' Seattle running back Shaun Alexander acknowledged.
Whisenhunt just appreciates the chance.
``We're just excited to have an opportunity for this game to mean something,'' he said.
So is Warner. The previously forgotten 36-year-old has replaced the injured Leinart (broken collarbone) again this season while playing through a torn ligament in his non-throwing elbow. He's completed 62 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 games while Whisenhunt has called for more pass plays than he planned to.
``Comparatively to what it's been for a number of years, there is a lot of excitement,'' said Warner, whose career-high 484 yards passing two weeks ago in an overtime loss to San Francisco reminded the Seahawks of his league MVP days in St. Louis.
``I don't know the last time that this franchise was 12 games into the season and they were actually playing for something. It doesn't sound like much to a lot of teams, especially a team like Seattle that is there every year. For an organization like this, to be in the hunt after 12 games is extremely important.''
Yet a fifth consecutive Seattle victory would give the Seahawks a three-game lead with three games remaining in the regular season. Seattle would win the NFC West tiebreaker because of a better division record.
``They've beaten us the last time we played each other, so we have to get ready to play a knockdown, drag- out football game,'' Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. ``We have a respect for what they've accomplished. So now we've got to be prepared.''
Warner's task has gotten taller in the last two weeks because Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, his two punishing receivers, have been injured. Boldin dislocated the second toe on his left foot during last weekend's win over Cleveland. Whisenhunt said the two-time Pro Bowl selection, already bothered by a hip injury, is being fitted for shoe orthotics; his availability could be a game-time decision.
Fitzgerald missed the Browns game with a groin injury. Whisenhunt said he, too, is questionable. His backup, former Seahawk Jerheme Urban, is also ailing. So third-stringer Sean Morey could be a bigger factor than Arizona would like.
That could mean an increased reliance on Edgerrin James and the running game, which the Cardinals have used only 41 percent of the time this season.
That, in turn, could mean trouble for Seattle.
The Seahawks have flourished defensively with a barrage of sacks over the last month, as their pass-heavy offense has raced to leads and forced opponents to throw. Seattle is likely to challenge a secondary missing Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson (heel surgery) and cornerback Eric Green (torn groin). The Cardinals, with former Seahawk Oliver Celestin now at safety and formerly benched Antrel Rolle at cornerback, have given up eight passes of at least 21 yards in the last two games.
But Seattle's defense has allowed huge runs throughout its winning streak, foreshadowing a possible problem should the Cardinals rely on James again. He had a season-high 128 yards against the Seahawks in a 23-20 win in Week 2.
Seattle is still smarting over that loss. It blew a chance at a winning field goal late when Hasselbeck called a fake audible in an attempt to trick the Cardinals' shifty defense. Alexander, then playing his first game with a cast on his broken left wrist that he is still wearing, thought it was real. They botched a basic handoff, Arizona recovered and kicked the winning field goal a few plays later.
Hasselbeck is still hearing about the gaffe that kept him from calling dummy audibles for over a month.
``If this season ends and we win our division and we're able to do something in the playoffs, then who cares?'' he said. ``Spilled milk.''

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