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Belief Remains High For Cardinals

Despite slow start, team still within striking distance of playoff berth

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Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson's one-handed interception was overturned on replay against the Panthers.



The Cardinals are so beaten up physically, coach Bruce Arians gave them the whole bye week off to recuperate.

But any belief they are beaten down mentally has been met with quick resistance.

The Cardinals are a disappointing 3-4-1 at the midway point, far from meeting expectations following last year's 13-3 campaign. There have been many culprits, from special teams gaffes to passing game woes to a sometimes-leaky run defense.

While there are myriad problems to fix, there is this silver lining: The Cardinals are far from out of the playoff hunt, and there is still plenty of time to make a run.

They sit 1½ games behind the Seahawks in the NFC West, and like the Cardinals, Seattle has shown some vulnerability. They are also among nine teams within a game of one another in the race for the two NFC wild card spots.

Arians' tenure with the Cardinals has been nearly picture-perfect, but he's also dealt with plenty of peaks and valleys in his four decades of coaching.

"I've been through a hell of a lot worse," Arians said. "This is just another good challenge. I love it when we're the underdog. That's the easiest coaching in the world. I'm looking forward, as our players are. We'll take the break (over the weekend), come back next Tuesday and Wednesday, put the pads on and set the tempo for the rest of the season."

The Cardinals will be tested in the back half of their schedule, as it ends with five of seven games on the road including visits to the Vikings, Falcons and Seahawks.

Many project doom, especially after an uninspiring performance early against Carolina which put the Cardinals in a 24-0 hole. The team is hoping its season can mirror the second half of that game, when all three phases clicked and helped propel a comeback attempt.

"Regardless of the noise outside the locker room, it's really about us," linebacker Kevin Minter said. "Obviously we didn't do what we wanted to do. We felt like we underachieved ourselves. At the same time, there's a lot of ball left. There's still a chance for us to get hot. I would say to people to not give up on us. We haven't given up on ourselves. I feel like y'all shouldn't either. At the same time, if you're a bandwagon fan, good riddance."

There are plenty of theories about what has gone wrong, whether expectations and overconfidence hampered the Cardinals early, or if it was simply a case of bad luck that contributed to an 0-2-1 record in games decided by four points or fewer.

Compounding the concerns is the continued injuries to key players. Guard Evan Mathis, left tackle Jared Veldheer, safety Tyvon Branch and running back Chris Johnson are among those on injured reserve, while safety Tyrann Mathieu is out for a few weeks with a shoulder injury.

But a quick look around the league shows every team is dealing with injuries, some more significant and some less so than the Cardinals. This isn't like 2014, when the Cardinals clinched a playoff berth after starting 11-3 but had a low ceiling because of injuries to quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton.

The Cardinals have gotten off to a much slower start this year, but there is still hope for a turnaround.

"The fact that we can come out of the bye week and be able to say that all the goals we had earlier in the season are still attainable, it's a blessing," linebacker Alex Okafor said. "We've just got to capitalize on it."

While it's natural to do a progress report at the midway point, Arians waved away any talk of blown chances. The Cardinals' story may be trending toward a sad ending, but plots can twist quickly in the NFL.

"It won't be a disappointment until it's over," Arians said. "If we don't have a ring, it will be a disappointment, because it always is. That's the goal every year, and that goal hasn't changed."



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