Whisenhunt: Arizona to play to win final 2 games

BY foxsports • December 22, 2009

The NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals won't be resting up for the playoffs, not after that struggle in Detroit.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt plans to play to win Sunday when the Cardinals host the St. Louis Rams.

The team needs to work out its problems before the postseason, and Whisenhunt noted Arizona has a longshot chance to climb to the No. 2 seed and get a first-round bye.

Minnesota (11-3) would have to lose its last two games - to Chicago and the New York Giants - and Arizona (9-5) must win its last two over St. Louis and Green Bay, then several other things would have to occur.

It's a remote possibility, at best.

``Even though who knows what could happen as far as that goes, there are a lot of things that would have to fall into place,'' Whisenhunt said Monday. ``I think it's more important that we continue to try to improve and get on a hot streak going into the playoffs.''

The Cardinals blew a 17-0 halftime lead against the Lions (2-12), but came back to win 31-24 on Kurt Warner's 5-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin with 1:54 to play.

The coach attributed his team's problems largely to the short work week. Arizona lost at San Francisco on Monday night, then played a 1 p.m. game in the Eastern time zone on Sunday.

``Not many teams have success doing that,'' Whisenhunt said. ``For us to get the win, I thought, was critical. I know we didn't play at times as sharply as we would have liked, but it's much easier to correct those things after a win than it would have been after a difficult loss.''

The Cardinals found out they clinched their second consecutive division title on their flight home, when they received word that San Francisco had lost at Philadelphia.

Arizona is only the second Super Bowl loser in the last nine years to make the playoffs the next season.

Even though it was no thing of beauty, Sunday's victory accomplished several things this franchise hasn't experienced in decades:

-The Cardinals won consecutive division titles for the first time since the Don Coryell-coached team took the NFC East crown in 1974-75.

-They will have consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1975-76, and their 6-2 road record is their best since 1963.

-If the Cardinals beat St. Louis, the franchise's 10 wins will be its most in a season since 1976.

-With a victory over the Rams, Arizona would finish the regular season without consecutive losses, something the Cardinals haven't done since 1975.

Whisenhunt said the team ``will be smart with players'' who have injuries but might have played if it was a game Arizona had to win. Otherwise, he expects to go with his regular lineup.

``I think that's important because we do have something at stake,'' he said. ``We want to obviously get to a point where we're playing good football going into the playoffs.

The Cardinals will be without starting left tackle Mike Gandy, who underwent surgery on Friday to repair a sports hernia. He will be out 3 to 6 weeks, and there has been no decision on whether he will be put on season-ending injured reserve. Gandy's replacement is Jeremy Bridges, signed by Arizona on Sept. 9 after he was released by Washington.

Whisenhunt said the Cardinals' passing game was ``just a little bit off, out of sync'' against the Lions. The ground game was just fine, with rookie Beanie Wells topping 100 yards for the first time in his young career, gaining 110 on 17 carries, including a 34-yarder to set up the winning touchdown.

Wells has 706 yards rushing for the season, second only to Denver's Knowshon Moreno (879) among NFL rookies. Moreno, though, has 71 more carries.

Larry Fitzgerald also reached a pair of milestones.

He topped 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth time in his six NFL seasons, and is the first receiver in franchise history to top 1,000 in consecutive years. He also became the youngest player (26 years, 111 days) to reach 7,000 yards receiving; Randy Moss did it in 26 years, 220 days.

Warner was 23 of 37 for 233 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions, with an interception that was returned 100 yards by Louis Delmas. The play was painfully familiar to the 100-yard TD run of Pittsburgh's James Harrison at the end of the first half of the Super Bowl - except Delmas is a lot faster.

``Sometimes that happens in this business, that you win ugly,'' Warner said after the game. ``It was an ugly win today. Again, it still moves us one step closer to our goal. We've got to continue to get better and get polished up for the next couple of weeks.''

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