SS Adrian Wilson (Al Messerschmidt/Getty)
Using the 8-8 record as a barometer, the Cardinals showed improvement this season. They won more games than they have since 1998, and played meaningful games in December, a rarity in their history in Arizona. But the Cardinals emerged from the season with more of a sense of disappointment than accomplishment.
The Cardinals know they blew a prime playoff opportunity. The NFC West winner, Seattle, wasn't dominating, and a 9-7 record could have meant a playoff berth. Two losses to the lowly 49ers will haunt the Cardinals through the off-season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: When the defense was healthy, it played better than it had in years. After nine games, it was ranked ninth overall. Linebacker Karlos Dansby successfully moved from the outside to the inside. Darnell Dockett prospered from the move from tackle to end. And the cornerback spot had been upgraded by the acquisition of Rod Hood and the improved play of Eric Green.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson was his usual dominant self. Injuries to Green, Wilson and defensive end Bertrand Berry robbed the team of playmakers and tested the defense's depth. The results were disappointing.
The offense played well through the second half of the season, despite the loss of quarterback Matt Leinart to injury, and the struggles of receiver Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald because of ailments.
Quarterback Kurt Warner played well as Leinart's replacement, and the coaching staff did a nice job of adjusting to Warner's different style. They opened up the offense, allowing Warner to operate with multiple receivers, which opened the field to him. The line provided solid protection through most of the season, and the run game showed signs of promise.
Most important, the players bought into Whisenhunt and his system. In many cases, they were coached better than they had been in years. Outside linebacker Calvin Pace, a first round pick in 2003, enjoyed his finest season after he became a starter when Chike Okeafor went down with injury. Receiver Bryant Johnson played well when Boldin and Fitzgerald were hobbling.
Rookie Steve Breaston, a fifth-round pick, proved to be a dynamic punt and kick returner.
WHAT WENT WRONG: There were far too many penalties and turnovers, especially given that Whisenhunt began emphasizing intelligence and toughness the day he took the job. Those mistakes proved too much to overcome most weeks. Too often, the team buried itself early with mistakes, then had to mount frantic comebacks.
Two losses to the 49ers will define a big part of the season. In the season opener, the Cardinals let the 49ers score late to win. In the second meeting, kicker Neil Rackers missed a field goal that would have won it.
The defense played well through most of the first half of the season, but couldn't overcome injuries in the second half. The Cardinals had trouble rushing the passer, and the lack of playmakers in the secondary became painfully apparent.
The defense's ranking fell from ninth to 20th over the second half of the year.
The team's defensive depth was tested, and it proved lacking. It's an area the front office needs to address this off-season.
While Whisenhunt and his staff did an admirable job in their first year, they weren't flawless. There were too many clock management issues, which resulted in penalties or timeouts.
There were also far too many turnovers and penalties, and the coaches must share the blame in that, too.
--QB Kurt Warner finished with 27 touchdown passes, one short of tying the franchise record. Warner didn't become the starter until the sixth game.
--C Al Johnson had most of a thumbnail ripped off, and he lost the skin and meat at the tip of his thumb down to the bone.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald finished the year with 1,409 receiving yards, matching a career high set two years ago. His 10 touchdowns also tie his career high, set that year.
--WR Anquan Boldin set a career high with nine touchdowns, despite missing four games because of injury.
--QB Kurt Warner collected $1 million in bonuses for finishing in the top 10 in touchdown passes (27) and yards per pass (7.6). He barely missed another $500,000 for having a passer rating of 90.0 or above. Warner finished at 89.8.