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A Different Kind of 7-3

Record, division lead the same after 10 games, but Cards expecting better finish

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Anquan Boldin and the Cardinals have run over the NFC West for a second straight season after 10 games but they want a stronger finish than 2008.
 
 
That tagline often attached to financial services should be adopted by the Cardinals.

"Past performance does not guarantee future results."

Ten games into the 2009 schedule, the Cards are 7-3, matching their record of 2008, and had a huge lead in the NFC West.

But that's where the road forked a season ago.

The Cardinals lost four of the next five games, making for a shaky foundation going into the postseason. In many ways, the next two weeks echo this time last year – the Cards played at home against the Giants and on the road against the Eagles, two strong teams. This year, they'll start on the road in Tennessee and then host Minnesota, both difficult matchups.

"We know what happened last year," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "But it's up to us not to repeat the past."

In theory, the Cardinals should cruise to a division title. A three-game lead with six to play should be enough. But if the Cards stumble each of the next two weeks and the 49ers – who host Jacksonville and then go to Seattle – win both games, the Cardinals will go to San Francisco needing to win to stay in first place.

That's a lot of what-ifs. But the Cards are saying all the right things this season, and, in reality, are having it play out on the field.

They say they are more mature and resilient, and those are the traits that allow a team to rally from 14-0 down against Seattle two weeks ago. Or hold a team to a field goal after a bad drop of a pitch from running back Beanie Wells early in the St. Louis game. Or to have won all five road games, the first time the franchise has started 5-0 on the road since 1948.

"It's about being better than last year," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We made the Super Bowl but we went 9-7. Let's go 11-5. Let's see how far we can really push this."

Dockett and linebacker Karlos Dansby insisted the hard times last season didn't come from having a big lead in the division. Safety Antrel Rolle said he didn't think it would matter, although he added the Cards must think "we're down three" games as a mentality.

"Every year is different," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "You think back to this time last year, everyone was saying we were 7-3 but we couldn't run the ball and we couldn't win on the road. This year we're 7-3 and we're running the ball a little better and we're winning on the road. Does that make us different? Does it mean we will play better down the stretch? I hope so. But I guess that remains to be seen."

Finding motivation could grow more difficult. Focusing on clinching the division – the magic number is four – is a good start. After that? Given the starts of both Minnesota (9-1) and New Orleans (10-0), the Cards would likely have to win out to have a chance at a first-round playoff bye.

But there are smaller victories to be had. Dockett suggested that if the Cardinals can slow down the powerful Tennessee running attack – ranked first in the NFL – it will build confidence for a defense that will face teams that can run in the playoffs.

Unlike last year, the Cards should be able to take 7-3 into double-digit victories. Still, there is something to be said about how the Cards' did the lemonade-out-of-lemons transformation late last season.

"If you could tell me we would be in the Super Bowl," Whisenhunt said, "I'll take it."

That concept brought a laugh out of Dansby.

"It's probably fair," Dansby said. "But it's not going to turn out like that."

EXTRA POINTS

Quarterback Kurt Warner said he suffered no setbacks from Wednesday to Thursday from his concussion, and after practicing full for a second straight day, remains on track to start Sunday in Tennessee. …

The Cardinals' injury report was unchanged on Thanksgiving except that linebacker Karlos Dansby (shoulder) was able to practice full after being limited Wednesday. …

The report that the Cards would try out a couple of veteran kickers turned out to be false. The Cards did contact a couple of players just in case kicker Neil Rackers (groin) gets worse, but Whisenhunt expects Rackers to play.

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