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After Losses, Home Inviting Place For Cardinals

Chiefs visit University of Phoenix Stadium where Cards have fashioned a 6-0 record this season

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The Cardinals get to play at home Sunday after two straight road games, games in which the team did not play well.

The Cardinals only spent two nights in hotels during recent road trips to Seattle and Atlanta, so they're not homesick in the traditional sense, but the friendly confines of University of Phoenix Stadium are still a welcome sight.

A pair of lopsided losses to the Seahawks and Falcons has allowed the rest of the NFC contenders to catch up to the Cardinals (9-3) in the standings, and they'll need a strong finish to secure a playoff berth and retain a favorable seed.

A return home could kickstart a turnaround, as the Cardinals are 6-0 here this season, including victories over the Chargers, 49ers, Eagles and Lions.

"We have to defend our turf," quarterback Drew Stanton said. "That's the biggest thing."

The offense has scored only one combined touchdown against the Seahawks and Falcons the past two weeks. Stanton is 38-of-65 for 443 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions over that span, but he's also the guy who rallied the

Cardinals past the Rams and guided the team to wins over San Francisco and Detroit.

Stanton has completed 42-of-70 passes for 635 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in home games this year for a quarterback rating of 101.8. Bruce Arians said the success stems from having a pro-Cardinals crowd.

"His offensive line can hear," Arians said. "It helps. People don't give it enough credit, being able to use a snap count and draw guys offsides and make them wait to get into the pass rush. And it's the same thing in the running game. You can communicate much, much better when you're at home."

The running game will again have its challenges, as the Cardinals are 31st in the NFL at 74.8 rushing yards per contest and will be without tailback Andre Ellington (hip pointer) and guard Paul Fanaika (ankle). Stepfan Taylor will start for Ellington –with  Marion Grice is also expected to see carries – while 2013 first-round pick Jonathan Cooper will make his first career start on the line.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee) is listed as questionable, but he practiced fully on Friday and would be a welcome

addition back to the offense. Despite missing the past two games, Fitzgerald still leads the Cardinals with 658 receiving yards.

Left tackle Jared Veldheer is expected to play through a sprained ankle, but safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (toe) have been ruled out.

"As many guys as we can get back out there who are starters, the better off we're going to be," Fitzgerald said. "If not, the guys who are playing are going to have to step up. We've won with guys who weren't starters before. We're not making excuses for anything. We've just got to find a way to go out there and get a win."

It was inarguably the worst game of the season for the Cardinals last time out in Atlanta. For the first time in 2014, they were not within a single possession in the second half, and needed a late score to make the final margin 29-18.

The offense struggled for the second straight game, the defense gave up 500 yards of total offense and the special teams allowed a long punt return to Devin Hester which would have been a touchdown if not for a facemask call.

Some coaches would chalk up the loss to an uninspired performance and move on quickly, but Arians wanted it to sink in.

"Last week was one of those ones some coaches say, 'Hey, burn the film,'" Arians said. "I don't. You watch it. Twice."

So the players trudged in on Monday morning and viewed the horror show, and by the time midweek rolled around, they were insistent on looking ahead.

"I don't remember Atlanta," linebacker Larry Foote said. "I don't read yesterday's newspaper."

"I don't even want to talk about that," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "It's a couple days removed now. I forgot about it already."

As the Cardinals try to rid the stench of Atlanta, they still remain the No. 1 seed in the NFC heading into Sunday's games -- a spot they've held since the conclusion of Week 8, when they defeated the Eagles to get to 6-1. The Cardinals will remain atop the conference if they beat the Chiefs, but will be passed by at least one team – either the Eagles or Seahawks, and possibly the Packers – if they lose.

As Foote said in the postgame locker room at the Georgia Dome, adversity has arrived for the first time this season. The Cardinals hope the strength of their play at home will send it packing.

"We went into that (Falcons) game expecting to play a lot better than we did," safety Rashad Johnson said. "At the end of the day, they made some plays. They brought it to us. You hate to see that happen, when a team brings the fight to you, but it happened. Now we're moving forward on to Kansas City. We're going to put our work in this week and on Sunday take the fight to them."



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