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Returning To .500

Posted Dec 17, 2011

After disastrous start, Cards can break even by beating Browns

The Cardinals want to keep pressing -- like linebacker O'Brien Schofield's attempt to block a punt last weekend -- as they seek to return to a .500 record.

The losses, piling up so frequently earlier this season, are gone but not forgotten.

“Losing six in a row,” said cornerback Patrick Peterson, “is miserable.”

But it’s also the reason Sunday, when the Cardinals host the Cleveland Browns at University of Phoenix Stadium, could be so special.

That six-game losing streak left the Cards with a 1-6 record. If the Cards beat the reeling Browns (4-9), however, coach Ken Whisenhunt’s bunch will have rallied to 7-7 with two games remaining in the season, a remarkable turnaround for a year that started so sour.

“I think it would mean a lot to our fans, I think it would mean a lot to our players,” Whisenhunt said. “It’s a big deal for us, to be where we were. That’s nice and it means a lot.  But we have done a good job in this stretch focused on a week-to-week thing and not getting too caught up in that. Hopefully that continues Sunday.”

The postseason – even if the Cardinals finish off their remarkable turnaround and win out to go 9-7 -- is more of a dream than anything. Peterson was asked about the postseason, and after he started to answer, he caught himself, perhaps a nod to the focus Whisenhunt is emphasizing to his team.

“We want to continue to control what we can, which is winning our ballgames,” Peterson said. “So much has to happen.”

It still has energized the locker room beyond just a better record, however. “We have something to look forward to,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “Slim chance in hell, but you never know what will happen. It motivates you – we ain’t out of it yet.”

The Browns can’t say the same. After starting 2-1 and 3-3 under new coach Pat Shurmur, Cleveland’s season has dissolved into a string of losses and controversy, including the hamstring and contract problems of running back Peyton Hillis and now the handling of the concussion of starting quarterback Colt McCoy.

“Right, wrong or indifferent, we’re dealing with trying to change some of the ways you do business day to day,” Shurmur said. “It takes a little bit of time. I’m as impatient as the people that are critical of me. I want it to happen yesterday, but unfortunately it doesn’t. We’re just grinding through it.”

McCoy won’t play Sunday because of the concussion. The Cards will see backup Seneca Wallace, and coincidentally, will likely start their own backup QB, John Skelton, because starter Kevin Kolb also suffered a concussion last week.

Skelton, however, is coming of the best game of his career. He did have three turnovers last week – an issue Whisenhunt remains concerned about – but completed 19-of-28 passes, much higher than normal and what the Cards hope is a nod toward his development.  

Whomever is quarterback has a suddenly stout defense upon which to lean as well – and the emerging Cards’ defense is going against a Cleveland offense that, even when fully healthy, doesn’t exactly feel threatening.

The path to .500 has never seemed as wide open this season as it does now.

“We dug ourselves a really big hole going 1-and-6 like that,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. The way we have played the last six weeks is encouraging and lets us all know we are capable of better things. We have to keep pushing.”

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