Linebacker Marcus Benard (59) and cornerback Patrick Peterson smile as they leave the field Sunday following the Cardinals' 17-10 win over the Seahawks in Seattle.
The Cardinals didn't apologize for their favorable playoff draw during the 2008 Super Bowl run, and they aren't complaining about a reversal of fortunes now.
The Cardinals only went 9-7 in the regular season that year, but were the No. 4 seed by virtue of their NFC West crown. The team hosted a pair of playoff games against opponents with better records, which helped facilitate the magical journey.
This season, the Cardinals are 10-5 but still outside the playoff picture. After the 49ers' win Monday night, if the Saints beat the Buccaneers at home in Week 17, the Cardinals could
finish 11-5 and miss the postseason. That's only happened once – to the Patriots in 2008 – since the current playoff format was adopted in 2002.
"It's the way it is and we understood that," said defensive end Calais Campbell, a key cog on the Super Bowl team. "I don't have an issue with it. In 2008 it benefitted us. It's just getting into the dance. Hopefully we'll do our part this upcoming week. It's possible. I've seen crazier things happen. I can hang my hat on 11-5, but I would love to go to the playoffs."
As it stands, the four divisions in each conference get an automatic berth, and the final two spots go to wild card entrants. The Cardinals have a better record than anyone in the NFC North or NFC East and are tied for the fourth-best record in the NFC, but trail the 49ers and Saints in the wild card race because of tiebreakers.
Coach Bruce Arians said it's an unfortunate circumstance but he doesn't consider the format a problem.
"It would be a shame (to miss the playoffs at 11-5), but that's the way it is," Arians said. "I'm not about changing rules or anything. Just a bad year for that to happen. It's only happened one other time and we're in a great division, so it could happen to us."
ARIANS: KEIM SHOULD BE EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR
Arians' coach of the year candidacy is picking up steam nationally, but in his mind, the Cardinals' success has been spearheaded by the addition of the right personnel. At his press conference on Monday, Arians began an unprompted campaign to get general manager Steve Keim recognized for the moves he's made.
"If he doesn't get executive of the year, something's wrong," Arians said. "People want to talk about coach of the year, (expletive), I just coach the team. He deserves to be executive of the year because what he did in his first year was phenomenal."
Keim was responsible for drafting safety Tyrann Mathieu (third round) and running back Andre Ellington (sixth round). He signed veteran linebackers Karlos Dansby and John Abraham to team-friendly deals in free agency and added quarterback Carson Palmer via trade for a late-round draft pick.
Arians said Keim is also adept at improving the depth, keeping a list of 10 potential additions at every position.
"We brought guys in every Tuesday," Arians said. "The bottom half of the roster, the bottom 10 guys, we were churning all the time looking for keepers. Steve's done a great job of it."
LARRY FITZGERALD BACK TO 100 PERCENT
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's availability Sunday was in doubt after he suffered a concussion in Week 15 against the Titans, but he played 64 of the team's 75 offensive snaps and Arians said he was 'full speed.' Fitzgerald had a quiet day, catching three passes for 18 yards with a long of eight.
He was targeted a team-high-tying five times, but the Cardinals were mostly content to run the ball and rely on their defense, especially after Palmer threw three first-half interceptions. Palmer finished the day with 13 completions on 25 attempts, as Fitzgerald tied tight end Jim Dray for the team lead in receptions.
"Their corners did a really good job of playing man-to-man," Arians said. "We got some (penalty) calls, which were good calls. But it wasn't going to be a game where we were going to throw it a bunch. We went there with one purpose, and that was to establish the run."
The Cardinals carried the ball 43 times for 139 yards.
RASHAD JOHNSON COULD BE BACK FOR FINALE
Arians seems optimistic about the return of safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) for Sunday's game against the 49ers. Johnson didn't practice last week and was inactive against the Seahawks. Tony Jefferson played every defensive snap in his place, finishing with three tackles and a quarterback hit.
Linebacker John Abraham left the game against Seattle with a stinger, but Arians said he will be fine. There were no other notable injuries.
"We should be at full strength for what we have left," Arians said.
PRACTICE SQUAD PLAYER ADDED
The Cardinals signed running back Robert Hughes to the practice squad Monday, cutting linebacker JoJo Dickson. Hughes spent the last two seasons with the Colts, playing in a total of six games.