Cardinals Win, Difficult to Describe

Cardinals fans in Carolina (Getty)

It's not that coach Ken Whisenhunt lacked the eloquence to put the Cardinals' 33-13 victory over Carolina into context. It's just that words seemed inadequate to describe what advancing to the NFC Championship Game means to a franchise that hasn't played for much of anything since winning a championship in 1947 when they played in Chicago.

With the victory in Carolina, the Cardinals advanced to the NFC title game for the first time. Before this year, they were the only NFC team not to play in the championship game since the leagues merged in 1970.

"It's so hard," Whisenhunt said, when asked what this meant to the team. "We're so excited right now. When you get to the playoffs, you never know what can happen. To be playing your best football at this time of year is what it's all about."

It won't be easy. The Cardinals were rooting hard for the Eagles to beat the Giants on Sunday, because that meant the NFC Championship Game would be played in Arizona.

They got their wish, but it won't be easy. The Eagles are on a roll and they beat the Cardinals, 48-20, on Thanksgiving night.

If anything, that game will serve as motivation for the Cardinals. They admit they didn't show up that night, and they are a much different team now than in late November.

The Cardinals had a substantial lead in the NFC West back then and needed to win just one of their last five games to clinch.

So when they fell behind early, they packed it in and the Eagles won in a blowout.

Sunday's game should be much different. The Cardinals play their best when something is on the line, and the stakes have never been higher.

Their coaching staff is full of playoff veterans, including Whisenhunt, who was the Steelers' offensive coordinator in 2005. This team won't be distracted by all the attention this week, and Whisenhunt will make sure they work diligently.

The Eagles probably won't recognize the Cardinals of the past three weeks. They've developed a running game, which they didn't have for most of the season. The defense is stopping the run, the front four is applying pressure on the quarterback and the secondary is making plays.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Not a lot of people have had very many nice things to say about us or gave us a chance. So, we're trying hard to earn some respect." -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt.

TRENDING: Cornerback Ralph Brown has battled for a roster spot in his two seasons with the team, but he has proven himself as the nickel corner. Brown assumed the job at mid-season when Eric Green began his slide down the depth chart, and Brown has excelled. He has three interceptions in his last three games, and as a nine-year veteran, he's been a valuable mentor to the younger defensive backs, such as rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Brown is due to become an unrestricted free agent, but with the way he's playing, the team can ill afford to lose him.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin is hopeful he will be able to play in the NFC Championship Game after missing the divisional round with a hamstring strain. Boldin worked out before the game, but coaches didn't think he could run at top speed so they held him out.

--TE Stephen Spach suffered a sprained right knee, and his status for this week's game is uncertain. Spach was in a brace and on crutches after the game. He'll undergo an MRI in the next few days. If he can't play, it's a significant blow. He's the team's best tight end, and a far better blocker than Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick. Pope and Patrick also have knee injuries, and Patrick missed the Carolina game.

--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has an interception in each of the two postseason games, giving him six for the season. Rodgers-Cromartie seems to be improving weekly and the last two weeks he has matched up against the best receiver.

--DE Antonio Smith has set up scores in each of the two playoff games. He had a sack for a safety against Atlanta, and his sack and recovered fumble against Carolina led to a touchdown.

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