GREEN BAY, Wis. – Markus Golden is an impending free agent on a two-win Cardinals team, so it would be perfectly reasonable for the future to dominate his thoughts.
While the fourth-year defensive end certainly hopes for an optimal individual outcome, it does not alter his thinking on the field. That battle must be won throughout the roster in these final give games – beginning Sunday against the Packers -- as the Cardinals aim to play together despite knowing the playoffs are out of reach.
“That’s the pride of being in the NFL,” Golden said. “That’s why everybody doesn’t make it to the NFL. If you’re here and you’re playing on this team, there ain’t no way in hell you can sit back and say, ‘Oh, the season’s fixing to be over, I need to go and make my plays.’ And vice-versa: ‘I’m going to just sit out there and play to get it over with.’ There’s just no way possible you can do it, because at the end of the day, you’re still being watched. The eye in the sky don’t lie.”
Coach Steve Wilks was adamant his group didn’t quit in last Sunday’s blowout loss to the Chargers and reported a strong week of practice spurred by the team leaders.
Green Bay (4-6-1) has not hit on all cylinders this year, but still boasts one of the best quarterbacks of all-time in Aaron Rodgers. The Cardinals must work in concert to stop him, which includes some players doing the dirty work that doesn’t show up in the box score.
“We never want to put self before the team,” defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. “It’s constantly talking about doing your 1/11th. It’s about trusting each man beside you, in the coaches, in each other, and just trying to continually create this mindset that we’re all in this together. If we can get 11 men doing one thing, then we have a chance to win that snap. That’s the mindset, and I really don’t believe that we have any selfish players on this defense. We really don’t.”
The Cardinals’ defense should get a boost from the expected return of safety Budda Baker, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury. He should help solidify a secondary that couldn’t contain Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers last week, although the revolving door at No. 2 cornerback still allows for some concern.
The offense scored 10 points on its first two possessions against the Chargers and was blanked from there. It won’t get any easier if left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) can’t play. He is listed as questionable.
There are some striking off-field similarities between Rodgers and Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen, but Rosen is still searching for a fraction of his mentor’s on-field success. He is hoping for a slice of it at Lambeau as the offense aims to shake a season-long funk.
“I think when you try to look too far ahead, you can overwhelm yourself,” Rosen said. “We’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”
Rosen is at the start of his career, while a player like Larry Fitzgerald is nearing his end. The veteran wide receiver has experienced both fantastic seasons and bad ones. No matter the record, he said teams stay together because of the bonds they have created.
It might be that, more than anything, which helps the Cardinals give full effort down the stretch of a lost campaign.
“The relationships and the camaraderie and the competition, all those things, are really what you do it for,” Fitzgerald said. “You play for each other.”
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Green Bay Packers