The Arizona Cardinals wrapped up their second consecutive
division title last week, but coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t want the
team to be content with just making the playoffs.
The Cardinals still have an outside shot at a first-round bye,
but they need to win their final two games, beginning with Sunday’s
visit from the woeful St. Louis Rams.
Arizona (9-5) clinched the NFC West title with a 31-24 victory
in Detroit and San Francisco’s loss in Philadelphia last Sunday,
winning the franchise’s first back-to-back division crowns since
The Cardinals fell into a rut after securing last season’s
title, losing 35-14 at home to Minnesota and 47-7 in New England
before winning their season finale. They bounced back to reach the
Super Bowl, but Whisenhunt would like to make this season’s playoff
push a little easier.
Arizona, however, trails Minnesota by two games in the race for
the final NFC playoff bye and is a game back of Philadelphia. Even
if they fall short of that goal, the Cardinals can still clinch
their first 10-win season since 1976 with a victory this week.
“We’re playing this week like it’s a must-win for us because
we’re still in contention for a potential second seed,” Whisenhunt
said. “Even though it may not be a great chance, it is a chance,
and I’d hate to have to be sitting here next week and say ‘Wow,
what could have been.'”
To keep those faint hopes alive, the Cardinals could use a
better performance from former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner.
In his first 11 games this season, Warner completed 67.6 percent
of his passes for 273 yards per game, 23 touchdowns and 11
interceptions. In the past two, though, he’s averaged 203 yards
while connecting at a 58.5 percent clip and totaling one TD and
“I just think we have to continue to clean things up,” Warner
said. “We have to just be able to react and know what we’re looking
for, to see it and reacting quickly. That was one of the things we
didn’t do well enough on Sunday (against Detroit).”
Warner, who needs 225 yards to pass Sonny Jurgensen for 25th on
the NFL’s passing list, has experienced considerable success
against his former team since coming to the Cardinals in 2005,
after one season with the New York Giants.
He’s passed for nearly 273 yards per game and 13 touchdowns
while helping the Cardinals post a 6-2 mark over their divisional
rivals. He’s appeared in five of the team’s six straight wins over
the Rams (1-13) and passed for at least 279 yards in back-to-back
home victories against them.
Warner was efficient in a 21-13 victory in St. Louis on Nov. 22,
completing 15 of 19 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
That win also featured a stellar showing from the Cardinals’
improved rushing attack. Tim Hightower had a career-best 110 yards
and Beanie Wells added 74 to lead the team to its best performance
on the ground (183 rushing yards) in more than five years.
The Cardinals have averaged 126 yards on the ground over the
past seven games, and Wells had his first 100-yard performance as a
pro in last week’s win, running for 110 and a touchdown.
“That Beanie Wells is terrific. I think Tim is a heck of a back,
too,” St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “That’s quite a
complement when you have the two of them.”
Spagnuolo’s team will likely need a big game from the league’s
No. 2 rusher, Steven Jackson, as the club’s quarterback situation
is unsettled. Starter Marc Bulger has not played since the loss to
Arizona because of a fractured left shin bone and was placed on
season-ending injured reserve Saturday. Kyle Boller has been out
with a bruised thigh and flulike symptoms, and rookie Keith Null
has been largely ineffective while starting the last two games.
After a five-interception game in his NFL debut on Dec. 13, Null
completed 18 of 27 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and one
interception in last week’s 16-13 loss to visiting Houston.
However, even Jackson – who has 1,353 yards on the season –
hasn’t been able to help the Rams avoid a six-game skid. He ran for
116 yards in the November loss to the Cardinals, the first time in
nine career meetings with Arizona that he’s surpassed 100.
That game capped a season-high string of four straight 100-yard
performances, but Jackson has topped the century mark once in his
last four games.