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Cardinals On Top For Now

As fall of 49ers reiterates, enjoying success at the time important -- because change comes quickly

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Right now, the Cardinals and wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) are headed in the opposite direction of the struggling San Francisco 49ers.


Rashad Johnson lived through it.

The safety joined a team that was coming off a Super Bowl appearance in 2009, and then as the Cardinals won 10 games in his rookie season. They won their second straight NFC West title and even a thrilling overtime playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

The Cards' run that season ended the next week in New Orleans. And their run, period, came to an abrupt halt when the team lost Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby in one offseason.

From 2010 to 2012, the Cardinals won just 18 of 48 games, and lost a head coach. Then Bruce Arians arrived, and the Cardinals have won 29 of 42 games. They are headed toward another NFC championship. And Johnson is trying to embrace the moment.

"You do have to enjoy it all," Johnson said. "It can't be all work all the time. You have to enjoy that we are a good team, with all the tools. At the same time, just because we have the tools doesn't mean we will get it done."

Embracing the moment isn't easy. Arians himself said it's impossible to do. But as the Cardinals will see Sunday in San Francisco – and as the franchise has gone through itself – that time at the top can change quickly.

The 49ers made three straight NFC Championship games, most recently after the 2013 season. But here they are, not even two full seasons removed, and they are only 3-7, perhaps considering a second coaching change in as many years and likely having moved on from who they had believed to be their franchise quarterback during those title games.

"Having the success that we've had, and then just having a new team, all those things are kind of challenging to deal with," 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "But, understanding where we are and the business that we're in, we just have to keep moving forward."

Like the Cardinals, an avalanche of defections spurred the Niners fall. It didn't help that the 49ers got rid of coach Jim Harbaugh. But defensive stars Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and Chris Borland all retired, as did tackle Anthony Davis. The team allowed guard Mike Iupati to leave as a free agent (and sign with the division-rival Cardinals.) Wide receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Frank Gore also left in free agency. They released troubled linebacker Aldon Smith.

That doesn't include the fall, benching and now move to injured reserve of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw four

interceptions in the Cardinals' 47-7 blowout earlier this season.

"It is a year-to-year league," Iupati said. "We had a really good squad. A lot of guys retired, leave. But there are still veterans there who lead. It's a business sometimes. Sometimes you don't want it to go the way it's going, but that's football."

Bowman even acknowledged it is difficult to call the Cardinals-49ers game a rivalry matchup this weekend because the Niners are struggling so mightily.

 "The one thing I believe is that certain storms, you can't go around," 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. "You've got to go right through them, and we're steering right through."

The Cardinals were in those depths just a couple of years ago. A nine-game losing streak was underscored with an utter lack of punch offensively. The Cards were much closer to the first overall pick than the playoffs.

"We fell off after (2009) and it was a constant battle to find out what we could do to get back to the top," Johnson said. "For me, I knew what it took to be to be a good football player and I worked to do it every day, but it was kind of hard when we didn't have a collective group of guys who were doing that. It's good to be on a good team now that knows how to get the job done."

That is what the Cardinals have now. From an offense that leads the NFL in points to a defense that is ranked third in the NFL, the franchise has found its way out from the 2012 doldrums – the year the 49ers were at the peak of their run, going to the Super Bowl.

"Everybody who has ever done well in this league says it's all about the journey," said defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who was a rookie on the Cardinals' Super Bowl team. "We've been having a blast. In meeting rooms, laughing and joking. Everybody's loose, having fun.

"It's good playing football when you're winning. Even when you lose it's an awesome job, but when you're winning it's an unbelievable job."

QB Carson Palmer, Nicole Bidwill and other members of the Cardinals organization were at Escalante Park on Tuesday for a ceremonial groundbreaking of a new football field



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