Browns-Cardinals Preview

While the Arizona Cardinals remain alive in the playoff hunt, a

disastrous start to the season likely put their postseason hopes

out of reach.

Finishing with a winning record, though, is looking like a

realistic possibility.

The Cardinals look to match their longest winning streak in more

than 12 years Sunday when they host the woeful Cleveland

Browns.

After winning its season opener, Arizona suffered a season-worst

six consecutive defeats to drop into a last-place tie with St.

Louis in the NFC West. The Cardinals, however, have since won three

straight and five of six to get their record to 6-7.

Arizona, which hasn’t won four in a row since Nov. 14-Dec. 5,

1999, still is a longshot for the playoffs with several teams

sitting ahead of it in the wild-card standings.

“I’m proud of our guys, the way they have played, and the way

they have hung together after facing a lot of criticism,” coach Ken

Whisenhunt said. “… A lot of times that will fracture your team,

but our guys believed in it and stuck together.”

Having a winning season “would be incredible,” he added. “It

would be very significant for the character of our football

team.”

The Cardinals have to like their chances of inching closer to

accomplishing that feat with Cleveland (4-9), riding a five-game

road losing streak, coming to town. Arizona visits Cincinnati (7-6)

next week before concluding its schedule against Seattle (6-7).

The Browns, who haven’t lost six in a row on the road since

Sept. 25-Dec. 11, 2005, were handed their sixth defeat in seven

games overall Dec. 8, 14-3 at Pittsburgh.

“We felt good, we just couldn’t score points,” said Colt McCoy,

who threw for 209 yards and two interceptions. “That’s the problem.

We’ve got to figure it out.”

While McCoy’s effort on the field wasn’t really of note, it was

the Browns’ handling of their starting quarterback’s injury that

became a topic of debate.

Though team president Mike Holmgren says McCoy didn’t show any

symptoms until well after the game, McCoy sustained a concussion on

a helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker James Harrison. He was

helped off the field but returned less than four minutes later.

McCoy continued to feel symptoms through the week, meaning

Seneca Wallace will start in his place. Cleveland went 1-3 in

Wallace’s four starts last season.

The Browns could struggle to move the ball through the air

versus an Arizona defense surrendering an average of 214.4 passing

yards since Nov. 14 – the 10th-best mark in the league.

The Cardinals’ quarterback situation remains unsettled, as Kevin

Kolb was forced from last Sunday’s 21-19 win over division-champion

San Francisco after taking a knee to the head on Arizona’s third

play of the game.

John Skelton stepped in and completed 19 of 28 passes for 282

yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions to finish with a

career-high passer rating of 106.5.

“You’re only as good as your last play, your last game. You kind

of have to live with that until you get another opportunity,”

Skelton said. “You never know when that opportunity is. You’ve just

got to be ready and make the most of it.”

Kolb, however, practiced this week and could return Sunday.

Having All-Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald makes things easier on

both quarterbacks. Fitzgerald had seven receptions for a

season-best 149 yards last week – including a 46-yard TD.

“Every day, every single day, he comes to work and works his

tail off to try and get better,” Whisenhunt told the team’s

official website. “You are talking about one of the best players in

the league. How much better do you think you can get by doing that

every day? Well, obviously, Larry thinks he can.”

With 1,092 receiving yards, Fitzgerald is the eighth player in

NFL history to post six 1,000-yard campaigns in his first eight

seasons.

With his team on the rise, Whisenhunt was presented with one of

last Sunday’s game balls. The coach has 42 victories – including

playoffs – is one away from breaking a tie with Don Coryell and

becoming the winningest coach in franchise history.

“It was very meaningful that our team did that,” Whisenhunt

said, “but it’s a team game, so we are worried about focusing on

Cleveland this week.”

These teams haven’t met since the Cardinals won 27-21 at home

Dec. 2, 2007. Cleveland holds a 33-12-3 advantage in the

series.