TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -The situation is ever so familiar to the Arizona Cardinals. It just happened a bit later than usual.
For the 22nd time in 23 years, the Cardinals will not have a winning season. After Sunday's 31-24 loss at New Orleans, the best they can do is 8-8.
It would, though, be the franchise's best record in nine years.
Although first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt said a .500 record is no significant accomplishment, those who have been around this franchise for awhile believe otherwise.
``It would mean something I've never done around here before,'' two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin said Monday. ``I think the most games I've won here is probably six (6-10 in 2004), so it would be a lot better to go 8-8 than 6-10.''
Despite an up-and-down season marred by injuries and peppered with penalties, Arizona remained in playoff contention into mid-December, until consecutive road losses to Seattle and New Orleans dropped the team to 6-8.
``I don't know if you can make a positive spin out of this,'' wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. ``It's demoralizing to have not only one but two opportunities, and have both of them get away from you.''
Arizona finishes the season with home games against Atlanta and St. Louis, both long eliminated from any shot at the postseason. In 1998, the Cardinals went 9-7 and made the playoffs under Vince Tobin. Arizona was 8-8 in 1994, Buddy Ryan's first season as coach.
``I'm taking into consideration where we've been the last couple of years,'' quarterback Kurt Warner said. ``So as disappointed as I am that we couldn't parlay this into a chance for the playoffs, I still feel very good about what we've accomplished this year and the position we've put ourselves in week in and week out.''
Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers before replacing the fired Dennis Green in Arizona, was not so rosy in his evaluation.
``We feel like we're improving, or we are improved,'' he said, ``but 8-8 for us is not something that we're happy with. That's .500. We aspire to do better.''
Boldin, in his fifth season in Arizona, said he believes the team is headed in the right direction.
``We're certainly not the same team as in past years,'' he said. ``We most definitely have a different look to us, a different feel. This team is different all around. I think we're taking the right steps.''
Injuries to some of the best players have hurt the Cardinals. Starters out for the season include quarterback Matt Leinart, safety Adrian Wilson, defensive ends Bertrand Berry and Chike Okeafor, cornerback Eric Green and offensive tackle Oliver Ross.
Boldin has a hip injury and a dislocated toe, but played Sunday anyway. Fitzgerald has played the last two games with a strained left groin.
Mental mistakes have been another problem. Arizona leads the NFL in penalties (125) and yards penalized (1,008).
``Our guys have played hard,'' Whisenhunt said, ``but not always smart like we'd like to be. That's part of the process.''
As a team leader, Boldin said he will try to make sure no one just goes through the motions from here on out.
``Right now is when you see the true character of the team,'' he said. ``It's easy for guys to just throw in the towel, but I don't think we have guys on the team that would do that.''

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