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After The Storm


At home, the Cardinals will try to clinch the division title for a third time after losses to the Giants and the Eagles delayed the inevitable.

Gerald Hayes had been through plenty of the downs, from his rookie season of 2003 that was Dave McGinnis' last season to the high-expectation, low-result era under Dennis Green.

Playoffs? That was sometimes tough to even dream about.

"Going through the storm?" Hayes said. "Yeah."

"You play for a long time, whether it is little league or high school or college, you

When: Sunday, 2:15 p.m.
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium
TV: Fox (Ch. 10)
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always want to win," Hayes added. "I always looked forward to winning and being in this position. It's just that, sometimes in the storm, you can't see it, and we had some stormy times."

The Cardinals are on the verge of the playoffs heading into a home date against the struggling Rams. It could have happened a week ago, but the Cards were terrible in a loss to Philadelphia and the 49ers scored an upset in Buffalo.

Clinching the NFC West had to wait.

But in some ways, the current scenario is much more fitting. The Cardinals would win a division title, their first since 1975, against the franchise that took their place in St. Louis. And it'd be during alumni weekend for the franchise, in front players who not only played for the Cards in St. Louis but also were part of the struggles once the team moved to Arizona.

"I do appreciate it," defensive end Antonio Smith said. "It's something I'll take with me the rest of my life."

The Cardinals are angry with their performance in Philadelphia and, after 10 days off, rested and anxious to snap a two-game losing streak. The Rams have sunk to a 2-10 record and have not played well, although they were more competitive last week at home against Miami.

"Our goal is to go in and not let them win a championship," Rams coach Jim Haslett told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The message from coach Ken Whisenhunt this week has been less about wrapping up a division than wrapping up the ballcarrier – or staying on technique as blockers, or following assignments, or any other attention to detail.

The Cardinals don't want to lose, in the big picture drive to get to the playoffs, the reason they have a chance at the postseason in the first place.

"It was evident that was part of our problem in Philadelphia," Whisenhunt said. "We realize if we don't take care of those details, if we don't take care of the fundamentals, we have a chance to play bad. That is a lot of what this week is about. Hopefully we will see some payoff."

Whisenhunt also wants his team to respond to their current two-game losing streak the same way they did the last time it happened. Back-to-back losses in Washington and New York in September were answered with back-to-back home wins against Buffalo and Dallas, and eventually, the Cards won five of six.

The Cardinals have home games against St. Louis and Minnesota, followed by a trip to New England and then a home game against Seattle to end the season.

"This is what it is all about, these stretch runs, getting into December and January," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "This is where it gets fun."

The storm is over. Playoffs and the Cardinals won't be mutually exclusive anymore.

"At this point and time I don't think we should be talking about the playoffs," Hayes said. "It's obvious – everyone talks about it so you can't escape it. But as long as we do the small things, we'll be all right."

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 12/6/08.

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