TEMPE, Ariz. — When Larry Fitzgerald stepped onto the University of Phoenix Stadium field for the 2009 NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the future was far from his mind.
“I wasn’t thinking about what it meant for the franchise,” the Cardinals receiver said. “I was just thinking, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.'”
Fitzgerald had no way of knowing then how prescient that thought was. While the Cardinals followed their improbable Super Bowl run with another division title and a first-round playoff win over the Green Bay Packers in 2009, Kurt Warner’s premature retirement robbed the franchise of a chance to build something lasting off that brief success.
Arizona missed the playoffs in each of the last two seasons and was given little chance of ending that streak this season with issues along the offensive line and at quarterback. But as Philadelphia returns to Glendale for the first time since that historic meeting, there is hope of another improbable run.
Both the Cardinals and Eagles are 2-0, so one team will emerge with a mathematically significant 3-0 mark. Since 1990, 84 of the 111 teams that started the season 3-0 have made the playoffs. That’s not a sure bet — and the second half of the Cardinals’ schedule feels like a bucket of cold water on those plans, with seven games in which they may be the underdogs — but last week’s win over the Patriots was an important reminder of how fast things can change in the parity-blessed NFL.
“That’s the way the NFL works,” said quarterback Kevin Kolb, who will face his old teammates for the first time since being traded to Arizona in 2011. “There’s probably a lot of team that are 0-2 saying, ‘Gosh, we’re right there.’”
If any team feels it is close, it should be the Eagles. Philadelphia added numerous pieces to the puzzle last season, including cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, and was tabbed a preseason Super Bowl contender. But the Eagles got off to a horrid start they couldn’t overcome in an 8-8 finish that fell short of the postseason cutoff line.
Like the Cardinals, the Eagles have won close games this season (one-point wins over the Browns and Ravens), and they’ve done it in spite of the play of their quarterback. Michael Vick has completed just 52 of 88 passes (59.1 percent) for 688 yards with three touchdowns, six interceptions and a 66.9 passer rating that ranks 29th in the NFL.
Those numbers and the Cardinals’ recent history against Vick are fueling fans’ hopes that the Cards can get off to a torrid start. Following the Eagles, the Cardinals host the Dolphins, travel to St. Louis, host the Bills and play at Minnesota.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is happy that fans are dreaming such big dreams. It’s a far cry from the projections he was hearing late in the preseason. But there is no such discussion ongoing inside the team’s practice complex in Tempe, nor is there much thought being given to that Super Bowl-springboard game three years ago.
“It’s certainly great for the organization and the players that were here that you can remember that,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s a great memory, and hopefully you can build on that, but we don’t talk about it much. Our players do a good job of focusing on the present.”