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Bye Week Work Gets Cardinals' Attention

Posted Jan 4, 2016

With two weeks and an unknown opponent ahead, players gear for postseason

Cardinals linebacker Sean Weatherspoon tracks down Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for a big loss during Sunday's game.

With a 13-2 record, not much tangible to play for and a bye wrapped up, Sean Weatherspoon watched the opponent come into his team’s home stadium and win.

That wasn’t just 2015 for the linebacker. It was also 2012, when he was playing for the Atlanta Falcons.

It wasn’t the end Weatherspoon and his teammates wanted, but it meant little. They got their bye, and played well enough to beat the up-and-coming Seattle Seahawks in the Divisional round, before falling in an epic NFC Championship game at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

“It’s all about winning the Divisional round,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s not about what happened (the last game).

“Ultimately you don’t know who you are going to play so practice the bye week, it’s like a tune-up. You want to be at your best. You want to make your head coach feel good about what’s going on. That’s the thing, you lose that Week 17 and everybody is asking him all these questions. We’ve got to get it turned around.”

Coach Bruce Arians reiterated Monday the tape from Sunday’s loss was ugly – “Just a lack of energy and passion,” he said. “That’s not the way we played all year” – but that he, like his players, have quickly moved on.

Players were officially off Monday but still came in to watch video and meet. With no game this coming weekend, the week will be about practice, fitting since last week’s practice went so poorly.

The team returns to the field Wednesday. Because the Cardinals won’t know who they play until after the NFC Wild Card games Sunday, Arians will set up practice to account for all possibilities: Wednesday will focus on the Packers, Thursday on the Vikings, Friday on the Redskins.

Arians said the Cardinals still have plenty left over to implement after prepping for the Vikings and Packers after playing both last month. Heavier work will come for the Redskins.

The idea, Weatherspoon said, is to practice like there is indeed a game this weekend, to set up the crucial work next week. Of course, that was Arians’ plan last week, to practice as if everything was on the line. The coach acknowledged Monday he all along was going to eventually pull out key guys against the Seahawks regardless of how the game went, but he never let the players know it in an effort to have a better week of practice.

That, of course, didn’t work.

There shouldn’t be any carryover, though, especially with a weekend off. Linebacker Dwight Freeney played on Colts teams that had the bye a few times. In 2009, the Colts were 14-0 before losing their last two regular-season games – the finale by a 30-7 score. Indianapolis still advanced to the Super Bowl.

“I’ve been in this situation about, I don’t know how many times. A bunch of times,” Freeney said. “All that matters for us is that we can correct our problems and we have two weeks to do it. You couldn’t ask for a better situation. I don’t care what the result was (Sunday).”

Arians was coaching with the Steelers when the team had playoff byes in 2004, 2008 and 2010. None of those teams lost their finales, but two did lose their next-to-last game. Momentum isn’t the issue as much as makeup, and Arians believes the veteran-oriented Cardinals will have the players in the right mindset.

Confidence isn’t an issue, Arians said, and he brushed off the weight of expectations, too.

“For all the teams in the playoffs, it’s the same goal,” Arians said. “It ain’t to win next week. It’s to win it all. But, you ain’t getting there until you win next week.”

Or, in the Cardinals’ case, in two weeks.

“The regular season is over,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Now the fun begins.”

EXTRA POINTS

Arians said defensive tackle Cory Redding suffered another high ankle sprain to the same ankle he had previously injured, and likely will miss the Cards’ next game. Otherwise, the Cards are relatively healthy, Arians said – center Lyle Sendlein should be OK after hurting his leg Sunday, while linebacker Markus Golden (knee) and defensive tackle Josh Mauro (calf) should also both be back. …

Arians said last week Palmer would not be treated any different than other players in the finale and wouldn’t be coming out early. Then he did, and Arians acknowledged Monday that the plan all along was to lift Palmer at halftime – regardless of the score or the score of the Panthers-Bucs game – as well as pull out others.

He also said he knew this since last Monday, the day he told everyone the game would be treated no different than any other. So, Arians was asked, you lied?

“Of course!” Arians said with a smile.

Arians added Palmer did not know he was going to be removed, in an effort to get the players to practice last week as if it was any other game. 

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