Still Hard To Believe These Cardinals

other.

Not sure if I can give a "check" to the Cardinals just yet on that one. They have all the makings of it. Then again, this team went 9-7 this year. If they went 6-2 at home, it means they were just 3-4 on the road.

One of the road losses was a 40, yes FORTY-point loss in the snow to the Patriots. They also got wiped out at home by a Tarvaris Jackson-led Vikings team. Now, both of those losses occurred after the Cardinals already clinched their division.

Then again, to go just 9-7 and play six games against San Francisco, Seattle and the Rams, isn't that impressive.

But enough about all of that. What is impressive is the simple fact that these Cardinals are still playing. Nobody will remember how easy their road to the Super Bowl might have been, if indeed the road ends up . . . at the Super Bowl.

Now, I wouldn't have predicted the Cardinals to be in this discussion here in mid-January, even after they beat the Cowboys like they did back on Oct. 12.

The Cardinals were pretty good that day. I'll give them that. Playoffs-good? Didn't think so. Super Bowl-good? No way. And I'm not sure I believe that part, now.

But what they did to the Cowboys back in October, might have changed the course of two seasons.

Despite the fact the Cowboys finished 9-7, at the time, they were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They were just a few weeks removed from being touted as the NFL's best team. And they still entered that game with a 4-1 record, as did the Cardinals.

By winning that game, and doing so in dramatic fashion, it had to lift the spirits, much less the expectations for Arizona's team. If the Cowboys were anything this year, they were indeed a measuring stick for the Cardinals in that game.

Sure, Arizona ended and finished the game with special teams touchdowns. But it's not like they didn't go toe-to-toe with the Cowboys in between. They were harassing Tony Romo all afternoon, and when it came time for them to make plays offensively, Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald stepped up.

When I look back, that game changed the season more than any other. I know we did a season-review story just two weeks ago and I picked the Baltimore game as the worst loss. I think my colleagues picked the Rams and Eagles, too.

But the more I think about it, Arizona was the worst of them all.

Not only did you lose in heartbreaking fashion - a blocked punt in overtime, which just so happened to be the first time in NFL history that a game ended with a blocked punt - but your key players get banged up in the process.

Let's just look at overtime alone. What are we talking . . . five plays, including a kickoff and the punt. Five plays and the Cowboys suffer three injuries.

Tony Romo fractures his right pinkie and misses the next three games, which the Cowboys finish 1-2. Enough said.

But also, the club loses punter Mat McBriar, who fractured his foot on the blocked punt and missed the rest of the season. Also, linebacker Kevin Burnett suffered a knee injury that virtually kept him out of the next game in St. Louis.

Not to mention earlier in that game the Cowboys lost Felix Jones to a hamstring injury. It looked like he would make it back to the field - that game. Instead, he never played another snap, missing an entire month with the hamstring and then having a toe injury that required season-ending surgery.

One game, you lose your playmaking, speed back, your punter, the quarterback for three games and your nickel linebacker and a top special teams player for a game.

Oh, and you lose the game, too, and finish the season one game out of the playoffs.

As for the Cardinals, they cruise on to win their division and although they limped into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, they're 11-7 now.

And a 12th win will put them in the Super Bowl.

So back to that initial question - the Cardinals, really?

Yes, apparently so. No, matter how weird it may sound.

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