Cornerback Jerraud Powers (25) and the Cardinals are looking to snap a two-game losing streak.
History is said to repeat itself, but as the Cardinals prepare for Sunday's matchup against the Chiefs, they're hoping for a new end to this chapter.
It doesn't take more than a cursory glance to notice the parallels between the 2013 Chiefs and 2014 Cardinals.
Kansas City started last season 9-0, far exceeding expectations and pushing into the NFL's upper echelon. From there came the lull, as they lost three in a row to fall to 9-3. The Cardinals began this year 9-1, also surpassing outside belief to grab the NFL's best record. Now they've lost two in a row and sit at 9-3.
At season's end, Kansas City finished with an 11-5 record and subsequently lost to the Colts in the wild card round. The fear is that injuries could derail a promising Cardinals season, but their story is far from over – and when the players are in the classroom, they're
studying game film, not history.
"I didn't even know what Kansas City did last year," linebacker Larry Foote said. "We want to finish on a high note."
While the Chiefs and Cardinals have followed a similar path, the circumstances were different. Kansas City went 2-14 in 2012 before last year's impressive turnaround. While they lost five of their final seven games, the 11 wins were still good enough for a postseason berth, which wasn't expected to start the year.
"We were such a young team," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. "We still had a ton of excitement and a ton of momentum and energy just to be rolling into the playoffs."
The Cardinals, meanwhile, had their big turnaround last year, from 5-11 to 10-6, and while it ended without a playoff berth, it was a feel-good finish. The goals ratcheted up right away in the offseason, with Super Bowl conversations a regular theme. While this year's start was fantastic, it was not unexpected internally.
The two losses have brought concern, but coach Bruce Arians remains confident this is not the Cardinals' new standard.
"There are two pictures," Arians said. "A two-game losing streak, and you're 9-3. Why did you get to 9-3, and how did you get the two-game losing streak? The biggest thing is we're now minus-three in turnovers in two games for the first time all year. Offensively, we're about 20 percent on third down in those two games. Defensively, we're giving up 41 percent. So, not getting off the field third down defensively, not staying on the field offensively, and then turning the ball over – those were the keys to winning nine games,
and those are the same two keys that cost us the last two ballgames."
Arians has long stressed playing well down the stretch. The Cardinals built a big enough cushion through the first 10 games that even a split of the final four would likely get them into the playoffs, but with loftier expectations than simply making it there, they don't want to go in without their mojo.
"How you play in December normally dictates how you play in January," Arians said. "You don't want to limp in, that's for sure. You want to play well and get guys healthy and have a full squad ready to play into the playoffs. That's hopefully our goal."
It was only last year when the Cardinals rode a wave of momentum to a 7-2 finish. They didn't make the postseason because of a 3-4 start, which likely made the other NFC playoff participants breathe a sigh of relief.
It's not always essential to play well down the stretch, though. The Chiefs went 2-5 in their final seven games, yet still had a 38-10 lead early in the third quarter against Indianapolis in the wild card game. The Colts needed some Luck – star quarterback Andrew threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns – and some luck – he also recovered a fumble for a 5-yard touchdown – to pull out the victory.
"I'm telling you," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, "we started off like gangbusters in the playoffs and then it didn't quite work out the way we wanted."
The Seahawks went 2-2 in their final four games last year before turning it on to win the Super Bowl. Victories this time of year are essential, but they might mean more to the Cardinals in the standings than as a confidence factor.
"A lot of coaches say ideally you want to play your best ball when it comes around, and yes I want that, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter," Foote said. "Playoffs are playoffs. It's about winning that 60 minutes to keep moving on. I've seen some teams limp in there and do well. Some teams got hot early December, late November. It doesn't really matter."
First and foremost, the Cardinals need to get in. They still hold the NFC's No. 1 seed, but now only because of a tiebreaker over the Packers and Eagles. They also remain atop the NFC West, though the Seahawks have climbed to a game back. The playoff picture is tightly bunched, as the 8-4 Cowboys are currently on the outside looking in.
Many sensed an inevitable regression when Kansas City got off to its hot start last year, and it came to fruition. The Cardinals were happy to share their path early in the season, but would like to blaze their own trail the rest of the way.
"If we were playing our best ball and we were losing, then it's a different story, but we haven't played good football," Campbell said. "If we go out there and play good football this week, it will be a different situation when it's all said and done."