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Cleveland Finish Crucial For Cardinals

With one game before bye, staying focused against Browns important in NFC West race

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Rookie defensive starters Markus Golden (44) and Rodney Gunter (95) celebrate a play during last week's game against Baltimore.


CLEVELAND -- With his proclivity for colorful language, there aren't many four-letter words that escape the vocabulary of Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. But suddenly, a three-letter word is unspeakable.

"Screw the bye week," Arians said Tuesday at the first reference to the once-a-year reprieve. "I don't even want to hear talk about the bye week."

While Arians broadcasted that message through the media this week, it was meant for his players. The Cardinals have their final game on Sunday before that illustrious bye – the rare weekend off during the season – and it comes against

the Browns, a franchise which has been downtrodden for several years and will be home underdogs.

The Cardinals have a tough slate coming up in the second half, so heading into the bye at 6-2 would be ideal to prime for the stretch run. But coasting there is the worry, which is why Arians was so vehemently guarded against looking ahead.

If the Cardinals don't play up to their potential and lose here in Cleveland, it will be a long two weeks of stewing before their Week 10 Sunday Night Football game in Seattle.

"That can leave a bitter taste in your mouth," cornerback Patrick Peterson said of losing before a bye. "I've been there before and don't want to have that taste again. We understand that these are the type of games that we can't let slip away, especially (with) where we want to be at the end of the year, which is playing with home field advantage at University of Phoenix Stadium."

The Cardinals haven't played in Cleveland since 2003, but some of the players have been there with other teams. The crowd is known to be rabid, and quarterback Carson Palmer looked back fondly at his visits to FirstEnergy Stadium while playing for the Bengals.

"It's a phenomenal stadium," Palmer said. "I love the bright orange seats with the silver. It's just, aesthetically, a cool-looking stadium. It's a great atmosphere. The Dawg Pound is awesome. With their fans, it doesn't matter what time the game is kicked off. You look out of your hotel room in the morning, there is tailgating everywhere and all over downtown."

Arians was the offensive coordinator there from 2001-03.

"The greatest game ever was the beer bottle game," Arians said. "Have you ever seen 40,000 beer bottles thrown on the field at one time? That's Cleveland."

The Cardinals will try to escape with more good memories and will enter with an edge in personnel. They are second in the NFL in scoring at 32.7 points per game and tied for eighth by allowing 19.0. The Browns are expected to have the services of starting quarterback Josh McCown (shoulder), but whether it's been him or Johnny Manziel under center, the offense has only mustered 21.0 points per contest.

The Browns secondary has talent, but opponents haven't needed to force throws. Cleveland is the only team in the NFL to allow more than 1,000 yards rushing this season and is giving up a gaudy 5.1 yards per carry. It potentially lines up as another big outing for Cardinals running back Chris Johnson, who enters second in the NFL with 567 rushing yards after his 18-carry, 122-yard performance in Monday's 26-18 win over the Ravens.

Asked about what that nationally-televised performance meant for his reputation, Johnson smiled slyly.

"I still got it," he said with a laugh.

The Cardinals hope they do, too, after getting back on track following a pair of close losses in three weeks. The Browns aren't a great team, but they are at home and have talent dispersed throughout the roster.

If the Cardinals can get one more victory to wrap up the first half, they can thoroughly enjoy their break and feel confident moving forward. Do it, and that three-letter word will be vulgar no more.

"We have a real gauntlet coming up after the bye, starting with Seattle," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "To be able to get back and get some guys back healthy would be great after the bye. But we have a formidable opponent here in Cleveland… I think we played well last week against Baltimore, but it's big and physical in the AFC North. We're going to get that same kind of medicine again this week and we have to be able to handle it."

Past images of games between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Cleveland Browns



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