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An Experience Like No Other

After last year's run, Cards comfortable with playoff know-how

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Darnell Dockett (left), Bertrand Berry (center) and Karlos Dansby enjoy a locker-room celebration after last weekend's victory, the Cards' fourth playoff win in two years.
 
 
NEW ORLEANS – The thought brought a chuckle out of Kurt Warner.

Now, the Cardinals are the most experienced playoff team left in the NFC.

The Saints, Saturday's opponent, last made the playoffs after the 2006 season. The Vikings were in it last year but lost in the first round. The Cowboys hadn't won a playoff game since 1996 before their victory last weekend against the Eagles.

For a franchise that for a long time just hoped to reach .500, a designation as the grizzled vets of the postseason – Saturday will be the Cards' sixth playoff game in a little over 12 months – can be pleasantly jarring.

"Maybe in regards to an organization," Warner said. "But I think playoff experience comes down to personnel rather than a whole organization. We are fortunate because we have a lot guys who have played in the playoffs before, but still not a lot of guys who have played in a lot of playoff games.

"We are still trying to build that. It's not like we're like Indianapolis, who have been together and in the playoffs every year. But yeah, there is no question we gain a benefit that a lot of our guys who are instrumental have been in these big-time situations before."

The Cardinals, coming off an emotionally draining 51-45 overtime Wild Card win against the Packers, are disadvantaged in some areas against the Saints. A road trip is one, as are injured players like wide receiver Anquan Boldin and linebacker Gerald Hayes.

The Saints (13-3 in the regular season) haven't played since Jan. 3, allowing them to get basically healthy.

But there is something to be said about playing last week. The Cardinals are already aware of what playoff-mode will feel like. The Saints also slid at the end of the season – losing three straight after a 13-0 start – and their starters didn't play much in the regular-season finale.

Rust could be an issue, although the Saints insist it won't be.

"Would we have liked to play better? Yes, but I don't think there are any real concerns," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We encountered a situation like this earlier in the year when we had to big-time wins and then two kind of lackluster performances. We just didn't play our best football and that was going into the bye week. Then we came back against the New York Giants … and had one of our better performances of the year."

The Saints, whose last playoff game was the NFC Championship following the 2006 season, will have a crowd anxious to see their team continue a dream season.

Then again, that's what the Cards faced when they went to Carolina last season against a Panthers' team coming off a bye (and undefeated at home).

It is experiences like that 33-13 win against the Panthers that has toughened the Cards for a game just like this one, experience that was deepened after the way the Cards held off Green Bay.

"We've had some really tough playoff games," linebacker Monty Beisel said. "Just getting through a game like last week takes a lot of heart, a lot of effort.  It shows the true character of the team and to do something like that proves how far we have come the last couple years. Two, three years ago, I don't think we could say we could have done that. We always say, winning is an attitude, a mentality, and I think that's the way things are going around here."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has often talked about looking around the room before the playoffs last season and asking for a show of hands from the guys who had been in the postseason – and seeing very few go up.

That's not the case anymore. It doesn't guarantee victory, but it guarantees knowledge of what is coming and how to handle it.

With four victories in five postseason games, the core of the team also knows the most important feeling of all.

"We're old," safety Adrian Wilson deadpanned. "We understand what it takes to win."

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