Cardinals Relying on Playoff Veterans

Sean Morey (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

If the extra media attention and increased demand for tickets create a bit of distraction for the Cardinals this week, they will gladly accept it. The Cardinals are playing in the NFC Championship Game for the first time. It's the farthest they've been in the playoffs since 1947, when they won the NFL title, and 1948, when they lost the title game.

While many players haven't been this far before, the Cardinals have a nucleus of veterans that should keep them humble and focused.

They will rely upon guys like special teams specialist Sean Morey, who won a Super Bowl ring with Pittsburgh in 2005, and cornerback Rod Hood, who played in a Super Bowl with the Eagles. Of course, there is quarterback Kurt Warner, who played in two Super Bowls with the Rams.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and many members of his staff have extensive playoff experience, so they know what it's like to prepare for a championship game.

The biggest obstacle facing the team is the health of two key offensive players. Starting tight end Stephen Spach suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament against Carolina and is done for the season. Replacing him will be Leonard Pope, the former starter who has been hampered by a knee injury late this season. Ben Patrick, who is also struggling with a knee sprain, could see some time.

As insurance, the club is expected to sign Jerame Tuman.

It's not a given that receiver Anquan Boldin will be healthy enough to play this week. He missed last week's game with a hamstring strain and hopes to practice sometime this week in order to test it.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Cornerbacks Ralph Brown and rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie each have had at least one interception in the past three games. Brown had just five interceptions in his previous three seasons.

--Strong safety Adrian Wilson is in the playoffs for the first time in his eight NFL seasons, all spent with the Cardinals. The reason for the turnaround the past two seasons is obvious to him.

"We didn't have the players," Wilson said. "We've had a couple good drafts and coach (Ken) Whisenhunt is a great coach with a great staff. Guys are believing in each other."

--The Cardinals' 11 victories are their most since the 1975 regular season.

--The Cardinals are 10-0 this season when they don't have more turnovers than the opponent.

--The Cardinals faced two of the top three running teams in the NFL in the playoffs and shut both of them down. Atlanta, second in the league with an average of 152.7 yards a game, had 60. Carolina, third in the NFL with a 152.3-yard average, gained 75 yards.

--The Cardinals sold out the NFC Championship Game in six minutes. For the wild-card game, they needed two extensions of the blackout deadline from the NFL and the help of a pool supply company, which bought a large block of tickets. Fans spending $100 in their stores received two tickets.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Stephen Spach is out for the remainder of the playoffs after suffering a torn right anterior cruciate ligament against the Panthers. Spach will undergo surgery and hope is he can be ready to play by the start of next season.

--WR Anquan Boldin is hopeful his strained right hamstring will improve enough to allow him to play in the NFC Championship Game. Boldin missed the divisional playoff game after suffering the injury the week before.

--TE Jerame Tuman likely will re-sign with the team in the coming days. Tuman was cut in late December but with the injury to Stephen Spach, the club needs to bolster the position.

--DE Antonio Smith has recorded two important sacks in as many weeks. He had a safety against Atlanta and forced and recovered a fumble against Carolina.

--LB Travis LaBoy was able to play on a part-time basis last week after missing three games with an ankle injury. LaBoy didn't have a tackle but his presence allowed the club to give Bertrand Berry, the starter, some rest.

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