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Early Adversity Strikes Cardinals

Team must respond if it plans to meet high expectations for season

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The Cardinals' offensive woes, including this late interception, played a big role in the 33-18 loss to the Bills



The cracks first showed up in the opener, but they were easy to cover with plaster, paint and a blowout of the Buccaneers.

After further inspection, there is a great deal of hand-wringing about the structural integrity of the Cardinals.

A 33-18 loss to the Bills last Sunday dropped the Cardinals to 1-2 and dealt an early dose of adversity to a projected Super Bowl contender. The early portion of the schedule wasn't supposed to be overly difficult – especially after the news of Tom Brady's suspension -- but the team now finds itself in a hole.

"We've been challenged," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "In the past we dealt with injuries. I don't think we've ever really dealt with getting our butts whipped."

It's been an unfamiliar feeling during the tenure of coach Bruce Arians, as the team has made a steady and impressive climb since he took over in 2013. That team won 10 games, the 2014 squad 11 and last year's team a franchise-record 13.

This season is supposed to be the icing on the cake, but it's instead been a bumpy beginning, and how the Cardinals respond could define their season.

When the Cardinals lost twice in a three game stretch last year, they bounced back beautifully, winning nine in a row.

When quarterback Carson Palmer missed 10 games in 2014 because of a shoulder injury and then a torn ACL, the Cardinals still got to 11-3 before an injury to backup quarterback Drew Stanton torpedoed their title chances.

There is plenty of time to get this one turned around, but issues must be fixed. While no one is questioning the talent flowing through the starting lineups on both sides of the ball, for one reason or another, it's not resulting in execution.

"We're good enough," Arians said. "But you've still got to play when those 60 minutes are scheduled. We did not (against Buffalo). We've got to own up to that one."

Maybe the Cardinals will shrug off the slow start and look every bit a contender beginning Sunday against the Rams. Maybe issues linger. Only time will tell.

The big thing right now is to keep the locker room from fracturing. Arians talked openly this week about young players doing a poor job of preparing like the leaders. An avalanche can build quickly if it gains momentum.

"When you're winning games, everybody's happy," tight end Jermaine Gresham said. "Once you hit a little bit of a hard spot, everybody starts to look around and see things. But we're doing fine. We know what we need to do and the things we need to fix to get this thing going on the right track."

The Cardinals aren't wont to panic because they have a sterling track record.

While the offense has been uncharacteristically impotent, it has the same major pieces in place which led the NFL in total offense a season ago. Some players on defense are trying too hard to make a play -- thus abandoning their assignments – but have the talent to fix the issues quickly.

A week is a long time to wait after a bad performance, but the players swear they are respecting the process.

"There's nobody pressing or getting over-upset or anxious," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We just have to come out and put a good 60 minutes of football together. We know we're capable of doing that. Now we just have to do it."

Few expected a crossroads to appear this early in the season, but such is life when an expected contender gets off to a rocky start. Some smooth sailing these next few weeks would certainly ease the troubled stomachs around the Valley.

"I know when you're 1-2, people want to push the panic button, but I'm very confident this team is going to figure it out," Campbell said. "It's my job to make sure we do, and I take a lot of pride in that. I'm very confident in this team."

Images of the Cardinals' top tacklers through the first three games of the season



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