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 TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -Close losses have defined the Arizona Cardinals' season. Finally winning one, over Atlanta 30-27 in overtime, has first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt encouraged.
``You know one thing that's always been said is `The Cardinals can't win a game at the end,''' Whisenhunt said Monday at his weekly news conference. ``Yesterday we did, and for me that's a positive sign.''
Six of the Cardinals' losses have been by seven points or less. In another, a 25-10 loss to Carolina, Arizona led 10-9 entering the fourth quarter.
``There probably are three or four plays that's the difference between us sitting here at 9-6 or even 10-5,'' Whisenhunt said. ``That's frustrating.''
No Arizona loss was more painful than a 37-31 overtime beating at home against San Francisco on Nov. 25. In that game, Neil Rackers missed what would have been a winning 32-yard field goal, then Kurt Warner fumbled the ball away in the Cardinals' end zone to give the 49ers the win.
Sunday's overtime performance was an improvement, to say the least.
``We were in the exact same situation that we were against San Francisco,'' Whisenhunt said. ``Our management at the end of the game was much better. Our guys made plays.''
The Cardinals seemed headed for a stunning loss when the Falcons rallied from 10 down in the fourth quarter to go ahead 27-24 on Morten Andersen's 21-yard field goal with 1:38 to play.
But Warner directed a masterful drive, with big catches by Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson, to set up a 29-yard field goal. This time, Rackers made it, sending the game into overtime.
``We went down the field with 1:33 on the clock and no timeouts to kick a field goal to tie it up,'' Whisenhunt said. ``That just doesn't happen. That's not an easy thing to do.''
Atlanta called ``heads'' on the subsequent coin toss, and it came up tails, adding to the kind of bad breaks the Falcons have endured in a 3-12 season.
The Cardinals took the kickoff, drove downfield, and Rackers' 31-yard field goal won it.
Had Atlanta won the toss, it's a safe bet the outcome would have been different, considering the way the Falcons' usually ineffective offense methodically took apart the Arizona secondary in the fourth quarter behind the play of quarterback Chris Redman.
``Maybe that's a function of us being a little bit too confident, having a 10-point lead and playing a little bit soft,'' Whisenhunt said. ``We've got to improve that. That was disappointing. We can't let them have three consecutive drives for points at the end of a game, especially when we have a lead.''
Although the team hasn't turned into the run-oriented squad he envisioned, the offense has been effective. The Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in seven consecutive games, something they haven't done since 1983-84. Their five 30-point games are the most since 1984.
This time, Boldin made the biggest plays. Despite still hurting with hip and toe injuries, he caught 13 passes for 162 yards, including a pair of touchdowns and a jaw-dropping one-handed grab to set up Arizona's other TD.
A victory at home against St. Louis on Sunday would give Arizona an 8-8 record, its best since 1998. It would be only the third time since 1984 the franchise didn't have a losing season.
Whisenhunt gave mixed signals on the significance of a .500 finish.
First, he said, ``8-8 is not where I want to be. I feel we're a better team than that. We will be a better team than that.''
Later, though, he said going 8-8 would ``be a significant change recordwise for this team.''
``I heard a number of our players say yesterday that they'd never won this many games in a season,'' Whisenhunt said. ``If we can win another one, it will hopefully lay the groundwork for a good season next year.''
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