Cardinals:Naysayers Point at loss to Patriots

Kurt Warner (Getty)

A lot of people want to point to the loss at New England as the pivotal point in the Cardinals' season, and while it was important, the issue has been overblown. After the game, as the legend goes, coach Ken Whisenhunt put the team in full pads at practice and worked the players as if they were in training camp.

It wasn't quite like that. Ken Whisenhunt did have his players in pads but it's not as if they were doing "Oklahoma" drills. Whisenhunt is smarter than that. Putting his team in pads was more symbolic than anything. It was a message to his team that the time for fooling around was over.

"I know a lot of people want to point to the Patriots game," said quarterback Kurt Warner, "but I really point towards the end of the season. I really think when we played the Giants and played Minnesota and played Philadelphia and played New England, those are four playoff teams.

"I think up to that point, we weren't really sure what it meant to be in the playoffs."

The Cardinals found out in those games. Only the Giants game was close. The Cardinals were blown out in the other three.

"I think it's easy to look back on it (the Patriots game) now and say it was a turning point," Whisenhunt said.

Most of all, it helped that the Cardinals had one game left, at home against Seattle. They righted themselves in that game, gained some confidence and started to roll.

"I think that it was then that the light bulb kind of switched on," Warner said of the late-season stretch. "We were playing those teams and it was kind of like a cloud moved over us and said, 'hey this is what it's all about.'"

SERIES HISTORY - 59th meeting. Steelers lead, 32-23-3. The teams played last year in Arizona, with the Cardinals winning, 21-14. The Cardinals were helped greatly by a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown by Steve Breaston. It was the team's first punt return for a score since 1993.

NOTES, QUOTES

-- Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was asked if he would be willing to restructure his contract to accommodate a new deal for Anquan Boldin. Fitzgerald said yes, like most any other player would.

The question, however, is moot because the Cardinals don't need the cap space to re-sign Boldin. The club is about $41 million under the cap for 2009.

The main problem in getting a new deal done with Boldin is money. The team hasn't negotiated with Boldin's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, in months.

General Manager Rod Graves said the team would "evaluate where we are with Anquan after the season.

"We still consider him a core member of our football team," said Graves. "We'll sit down with him after the season and evaluate where he is and where we are as well.

-- Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is known for using gadget plays, and they used to be fun to watch, said Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who worked with Whisenhunt in Pittsburgh.

"I used to love those trick plays," LeBeau said. "They got us a Super Bowl championship, but now I'm not so sure I'm a big fan of them."

-- Fitzgerald dropped 15 pounds in the offseason. He played at 228 last season and recently weighed in at 213. He thinks it's helped his speed and endurance.

"I'm definitely able to sustain my speed a lot longer," Fitzgerald said. "My endurance is better. I can run down the field repeatedly and I don't get winded. I think a lot of that is a tribute to John Lott (strength and conditioning coach)."

-- Receiver Sean Morey had a simple answer when a Pittsburgh reporter that he knew asked how the Cardinals made it to Super Bowl XLIII.

"By plane," Morey said with a smile.

-- The Cardinals expect the Steelers to commit whatever resources they have to controlling Fitzgerald, but the Cards have enough weapons to counter.

"We're fortunate we have Anquan Boldin, who is healthy," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "And we've got some young players in Jerheme Urban and Steve Breaston, who have had very good years for us."

BY THE NUMBERS: Plus-9: That's the Cardinals' turnover ratio in the playoffs. Their three opponents have committed 12 turnovers, including eight interceptions. The Cardinals intercepted just 13 passes during the regular season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Anybody can plug into an already-established program and win a Super bowl ring and everything is fine. But I wanted to do something that people would talk about for years and years and years. And now we're in a position to actually get people to talk about us." -- Defensive end Bertrand Berry on why he signed with the Cardinals in 2004.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

-- DE Antonio Smith has 3.0 sacks in the past four games, including two in the playoffs. Smith had only 2.5 sacks through the first 15 games, but he is producing at another level in the playoffs.

-- RB Tim Hightower has scored three touchdowns in the postseason in his role as short-yardage and goal-line back. Hightower has the power to pick up critical yardage but also has enough speed to bounce outside when needed. He has excellent hands, too.

-- OT Mike Gandy won't get a lot of help in trying to control Steelers OLB James Harrison, who had 16 sacks in the regular season. Gandy has been able to handle most pass rushers by himself, and the Cardinals usually don't use a running back or tight end to help him out.

-- WR Steve Breaston had a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown last season against the Steelers, but he hasn't produced much this year. Breaston averaged 7.2 yards a return but he is reliable catching punts and doesn't fumble.

-- FS Antrel Rolle gives coordinator Clancy Pendergast some flexibility in game planning. Rolle, a former corner, can move to play nickel corner and he can also stay deep in coverage. He is a solid tackler who has improved since making the transition from cornerback.

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