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Cardinals Remember Philly Pain

With Eagles in town, reminder that one loss can derail playoff hopes

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Wide receiver Michael Floyd is irritated he didn't get a penalty call late in last year's 24-21 Cardinals' loss in Philadelphia, while a pair of Eagles celebrate the incompletion.

Objects in the rearview mirror are supposed to disappear eventually over the horizon, but Bruce Arians had a feeling this one was along for the ride.

The Cardinals pulled off a stretch of seven wins in eight games near the end of last season, capped by a road victory at Seattle which made them one of the most feared teams in the NFL. The defense was flying, the offense hit its stride and the belief grew greater every successive week.

If the Cardinals had made the postseason in 2013, it's fair to wonder if anything would have played out differently. Does Richard Sherman tip that ball and grant that interview in the NFC Championship game? Do the Seahawks cruise in the Super Bowl?

The death knell for the Cardinals' postseason hopes came early, though few knew it at the time. It was Week 13, when a valiant

comeback attempt fell short against the Eagles in a 24-21 loss. Even with three subsequent wins to move to 10-5 heading into the season finale, the Cardinals were eliminated from playoff contention before their Week 17 game against the 49ers.

Arians wouldn't let his players know it as they continued to scratch and claw for a berth, but he always had a feeling the loss to Philadelphia would linger.

"I thought at that point in time it was the one that was probably going to cost us the playoffs," Arians said. "It was an NFC game, and when the tiebreakers came out, that was the conference game that actually got us."

This year's matchup against Philadelphia could have similar playoff repercussions. The Cardinals and Eagles combine for half of the remaining one-loss teams in the NFL, and both have the expectation of making the postseason.

The Cardinals must fight off the Seahawks and the 49ers in the NFC West, and even the current two-game lead in the loss column doesn't feel comfortable because of those teams' recent history. The Eagles trail the Cowboys by a half-game in the NFC East despite the hot start.

When the regular season finishes up at the end of December, at least one of these five teams will be on the outside of the playoff picture. Last year the Cardinals felt that sting.

"We knew we couldn't drop any games, and unfortunately we dropped that one," safety Rashad Johnson said. "It definitely has been fuel

for us. It's motivated us to come out the way we came out this season, to know every game is very important. We can't drop any. We can't have that lull in the middle of a winning streak. We're going to try to continue to keep stacking them, man."

The Cardinals are in a good spot following their 5-1 start. There are plenty of naysayers who point to subpar offensive and pass-defense statistics and project a tumble, but the team has found ways to win with a variety of players stepping up.

That may be the key to this year's team. While there haven't been many standouts, there are very few matchups to exploit. That theory will be tested against an Eagles offense with dynamic skill players like LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles and Jeremy Maclin slotted into coach Chip Kelly's innovative style.

After last Sunday's win over the Raiders, Arians stressed his team was nothing special, and he reiterated that message this week. He said the Cardinals have found success because they compete hard on every play, and if that work ethic disappears it will lead to trouble.

"We feel there's no one on the schedule we can't beat, and there's nobody on the schedule that can't beat us," Arians said. "It's going to be a daily grind getting ready for each ballgame. Philly's a big challenge."

The Cardinals have done an impressive job of piling up wins early, and have the third-largest division lead despite playing alongside both of the reigning NFC Championship game participants.

But with Philadelphia followed by Dallas these next two weeks, that cushion can dissipate quickly. The Cardinals learned a lesson about slow starts last year, losing four of their first seven games and falling behind 24-7 to the Eagles.

They're not interested in making life harder on themselves in 2014.

"When it is the playoffs, you can start (liking) yourself a little bit, but right now means nothing," linebacker Larry Foote said.

"You can lose five in a row so easily in this league and (the media) will start talking bad about us. We've just got to stay the course."

ROSTER MOVE

The Cardinals made a practice squad move Saturday, cutting WR Jalen Saunders and signing WR Solomon Patton. Patton was with the Buccaneers previously.

Images of the key players for this week's opponent, Philadelphia



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