Garafolo’s Sunday Wrap: Are Cardinals walking road to Glendale?

 

Patrick Peterson was on the bus inside AT&T Stadium, ready to head to the airport with his Arizona Cardinals teammates following their 28-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys when he posted his usual post-victory tweet.

This one, though, included an interesting hashtag at the end.

"Was great to see so many @AZCardinals fans in Dallas today! 7 & 1 but still more work to do!" the Cardinals’ Pro Bowl cornerback tweeted. "#P2Nation #YearOfTheCardinals #RoadToGlendale"

It’s a short road to Glendale for the Cardinals. They work there.

But that’s where Super Bowl XLIX will be played on Feb. 1 and, seeing as how a search of Twitter for Peterson’s handle and the Road to Glendale hashtag reveals he hadn’t used it before Sunday, it seems some Cardinals players might be starting to feel comfortable acknowledging they are currently enjoying the best season for a team from a Super Bowl host city in 13 years.

Consider the first halves of the seasons for teams in recent host cities:

• The New York Giants were 2-6 at this point last year, while the Jets were 4-4 but clearly not headed to the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium;

• The 2012 New Orleans Saints were 3-5 and mired in the Bountygate scandal;

• The 2011 Indianapolis Colts were 0-8 without the injured Peyton Manning;

• The 2010 Cowboys had a similar situation — 1-7 without Tony Romo, who had broken his collarbone;

• In 2009, the Miami Dolphins were 3-5 at the midway point;

• The best start in a host city before this year came from the 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were 5-3 but melted down in Jon Gruden’s final days as coach;

• And in 2007, the last time Glendale hosted the Super Bowl, the Cardinals started 3-5 and were never a threat to play the league’s final game in their home stadium.

The trend goes all the way back to 2000, when the Buccaneers were the last team from a host city to make the playoffs.

So the point is the Cardinals, whom many gave a puncher’s chance to make the playoffs but certainly didn’t predict would win seven of their first eight games, are not only defying doubters right now. They’re also challenging the Super Bowl host jinx. It’s one of the many aspects of their season that makes them a heckuva story.

Though some realize it’s still too early to start talking about that short road to the Super Bowl.

"Yeah, it is. You’re trying to trap me into it, aren’t you?" Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer told FOX Sports in a sit-down interview for FOX Sports Live after he threw three touchdowns to lead the comeback against Dallas. "There’s a ton of football to be played. There’s no doubt we know where the Super Bowl is being played and there’s no doubt we believe we can play (in) it, there’s no doubt we believe we can get there. But we’ve got to worry about St. Louis. (They’ve) got a very good pass rush coming in, a team that’s beat some good teams and that needs to be our focus now."

The Cardinals’ focus has been excellent this season. They’ve lost key players to injury and suspension on defense (defensive lineman Darnell Dockett and linebackers John Abraham and Daryl Washington), they were down to their third quarterback at one point and they hadn’t gotten the kind of play from Peterson they’d gotten in the past.

But they’ve made plays at the right time and have won the games they’re supposed to win. They’re also playing as relaxed and confident as their head coach Bruce Arians is on a daily basis.

On Sunday, down 10-0 after Palmer threw a pick six and the Cowboys added a 58-yard field goal, they calmly drove 80 yards in 13 plays, thanks to three third-down conversions — a gorgeous 31-yard pass from Palmer to Larry Fitzgerald, a 4-yard completion from Palmer to Jaron Brown and a dart by Palmer for a 7-yard touchdown to John Carlson.

"He’s as resilient as ever," Arians said of Palmer, adding: "After the interception, he was fine. He was ready to roll."

Palmer said Arians didn’t panic, either.

"There was no ‘Woe is me.’ There were no guys (being) down on themselves at all," Palmer said. "I don’t think anybody really cared what the scoreboard said."

Defensively, the Cardinals were stellar under coordinator Todd Bowles, even though they admitted they planned to face Tony Romo and were surprised he didn’t play Sunday.

They held Dez Bryant without a catch until late in the fourth quarter, they kept the Cowboys to a season-low 92 yards rushing and they made a huge stop on DeMarco Murray on fourth-and-1 with 9:41 to play. Arizona led 14-10 at the time, and the Cards scored on their next possession, thus putting the game out of reach.

It was a complete performance for one of the more complete teams in the league so far.

"Honestly, right now, the confidence is through the roof," Peterson said. "No matter who we step on the field with or what the scenario is, we feel we are the best team on the football field. We spotted them 10 points, we didn’t blink."

Peterson is the Cardinals player bringing the most swagger right now. He admitted he was irritated to hear critics saying he hasn’t been playing as well as in the past and was satisfied he had "put all this criticism to bed, all this talking about ‘He’s overrated, he can’t do this, he can’t do that.’ That’s not going to be it anymore, I promise you that."

Peterson’s confidence extended to the team as a whole, as his mentioning the "Road to Glendale" revealed. Palmer and some other veterans will try to temper that enthusiasm and remind their teammates a sweep of the NFC East and three other victories don’t mean much right now because there are five games left against NFC West opponents.

"You don’t get anything for a 7-1 start. We’re just halfway through the season," Fitzgerald said, adding: "We haven’t done anything. We have a long way to go."

A long way to go down a short road. They can only hope.

NFL WAGs

QUICK THOUGHTS

1. Mark Sanchez has to be happy with his decision to head down the Jersey Turnpike and join the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s not to say he’s pleased his teammate got hurt (though the Eagles haven’t confirmed, a source told FOX Sports Nick Foles suffered a collarbone injury); rather, he had to assess the right spot for him to try reviving his career. That means going somewhere with a good system, a good coaching staff and the chance to play. Sanchez had to consider the fact Foles had missed games due to injury in each of his first two seasons as a starter and could be out once again, especially in a system that often asks the quarterback to keep the ball on a fake. Foles will now miss at least a few weeks with an injury, and perhaps more depending on the severity of the injury. If Sanchez is ever going to reclaim a role as a long-term starter, he couldn’t have asked for a much better situation in which to do it.

2. Dez Bryant’s move to hire Roc Nation for his representation, which the firm announced via Twitter Sunday, won’t do much to bring about a new contract unless Bryant’s new agent is prepared to accept a team-friendly deal because that’s all the Cowboys have offered to this point. As I reported on "America’s Pregame" on Friday, the Cowboys still have their concerns about Bryant off the field. According a source informed of the talks between Bryant’s former agent and the team, their offers to this point have been well below what Calvin Johnson makes (an average of $16 million per season) and even below the $12 million per season Mike Wallace got from the Dolphins in free agency two years ago. Bryant’s new agent or agents, which could wind up including Tom Condon from CAA, will either have to take the deal Bryant’s former agent Eugene Parker wasn’t ready to accept or they’ll have to wait out a couple of franchise tags. The latter scenario will come with a salary of more than $12 million for Bryant next season, but the huge multi-year deal with a big guarantee just isn’t happening right now.

3. Last year, Colin Kaepernick threw 30 or more times in three regular-season games. This year, he’s already had six such games. Frank Gore was among the San Francisco 49ers players trying to be diplomatic about the play calling, but there was an interesting line in his answer when he said the Niners have "got to make our mind up, do what we feel we’re good at and just go do it." Ask the players what that is after injecting them with truth serum and they will tell you it’s running the ball. A source said there’s been grumbling in the locker room about the pass-heavy attack this year after the early success of the Jim Harbaugh era coming via an offense that established the ground game. The source said the consternation goes back to the preseason, when it became obvious Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman were intent on opening up the offense. We’ll see if Harbaugh, whose relationship with the players is obviously strained, can bend on this one and emphasize the run down the stretch.

4. The NFL will have a tough decision if and when Adrian Peterson reaches a plea deal in his child-abuse case. It just doesn’t seem plausible the league would allow Peterson back onto the field this year, given all of the hubbub his case, along with those of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy, caused. The NFL has weathered that storm, though Rice’s appeal hearings this week will likely bring some of those issues to the surface once again. Still, it’s been mostly about football in recent weeks after the off-field issues clouded the beginning of the season. Perhaps the NFL will look to compromise and allow Peterson to collect his pay for part of his suspension in exchange for keeping him away from the field for the rest of the season, as the league did with Richie Incognito last year. But to bring back Peterson (or Hardy, for that matter, after his trial was postponed until after the season) would seemingly only reignite the controversies.

5. Emotions are powerful motivators in the NFL, and by that I don’t mean the barking back and forth between trash-talking teams in the week leading up to a game. I mean players putting in a spirited effort for their coach the way the Dolphins did in their 37-0 shutout of the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. The Miami players spoke afterward about how much they wanted to win for coach Joe Philbin, whose father passed away last week. Those kinds of games are often won by the team whose player or coach experienced the loss — like the Cincinnati Bengals did for then-defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in 2010 after Zimmer lost his wife — and they are wonderful tributes in a time of grief. Congrats to the Dolphins for providing Philbin with some solace and our condolences to the entire Philbin family.

TEN EVEN QUICKER THOUGHTS

1. Rob Gronkowski: Consider this the weekly props we’ve been giving him in this space for his comeback. The one-armed catch with his robo-arm was proof he can still add finesse to his bruising style.

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2. James Harrison: The way he’s playing now just proves his heart just wasn’t into it in Cincinnati. He’s a Pittsburgh Steeler for life, and being back in that uniform has rejuvenated him.

3. Kansas City Chiefs: Very quietly, they’ve jumped into what would be a playoff spot if the season ended today. They have road games against the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders on opposite sides of a home meeting with the Seattle Seahawks. Then, the schedule stiffens.

4. Todd Haley: The Steelers’ offensive coordinator isn’t taking any heat these days, not with his quarterback setting an NFL record with 12 touchdowns in two games.

5. J.J. Watt: It’s amazing to think a player as good as he is can be on a team that’s lost 17 of its last 23 games.

6. Jeremy Hill: His 154 yards rushing made a case for a 1-2 punch with Gio Bernard when Bernard gets back for the Bengals.

7. Mike Glennon: He impressed in his first start back under center this season, but he just hasn’t been sharp enough since. He was extremely inaccurate in Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns — a game the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should have won.

8. Henry Melton: The Cowboys gave him a four-year deal with very little guaranteed money this year as he proved he could come back from an ACL injury. He’s done just that with five sacks, inclduing 3 1/2 in his last two games, so the $9 million non-guaranteed salary slated for next year will likely be coming his way.

9. Jeremy Maclin: He took a different kind of prove-it deal than Melton — a one-year contract to show he’s recovered from his ACL. Halfway through the season, he’s only 25 catches, 174 yards and two touchdowns away from new career-highs in those categories.

10. Bowles: The Cardinals are already bracing for the loss of their defensive coordinator to a head-coaching job this offseason. If he keeps it up, their fears will indeed be realized.