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Essentially, A Playoff Game For Cardinals To Reach Playoffs

49ers result meaningless now; 'We know what's at stake'

Linebacker Jordan Hicks and the Cardinals make the playoffs with a win on Sunday.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks and the Cardinals make the playoffs with a win on Sunday.

Jordan Hicks was indeed watching the scoreboard Sunday to see how it impacted the Cardinals' seemingly slim playoff chances.

The linebacker just didn't know all the details while staring at the lopsided Bears-Jaguars score.

"I thought it was all on Chicago," Hicks said, not knowing at the time a Rams' loss to the Seahawks benefitted the Cardinals greatly. "When I saw what had happened it was after the fact. I was pretty happy about that. I was misinformed, thinking it was all Chicago, so that was the game I was watching and I was like, 'Well, this is no good."

"Glad it turned in our favor."

In many ways, circumstances have turned hard in the Cardinals' favor, at least as much as they could have. After a listless loss to the 49ers Saturday, they reclaimed control of their playoff lives when the Rams lost. Rams starting quarterback Jared Goff broke the thumb on his throwing hand, forcing surgery and forcing former Arizona Hotshots quarterback John Wolford – who has never thrown an NFL regular-season pass -- into the lineup for the Rams.

The game on Saturday even moved up the mandated-for-COVID two-day closure for the Cardinals at their facility, meaning players and coaches could be back at the Dignity Health Training Center for the beginning of Rams' prep.

"We knew we blew an opportunity to control our own destiny by losing that game on Saturday, and fortunately we're back in a position where if we win we're in," guard Justin Pugh said. "It's not how we drew it up – obviously you don't want to lose games that are that meaningful. But we did. What are we going to do, sit here and sulk about it and say 'Woe is me, woe is me?' Or are we going to get up and go win a game and get in the playoffs?"

In Hicks' final season with the Eagles, the defending Super Bowl champions needed to win their last three in a row to get into the postseason at 9-7. Like the Cardinals, the Eagles' final game was essentially the playoffs before the playoffs began.

"The thing about the playoffs is the focus and the energy and the intensity is magnified," Hicks said. "Each play itself is magnified. The game itself doesn't change, but every single play is more intense. That's where we're at. We have no margin for error and we understand that."

While Wolford hasn't thrown a regular-season pass, he did play in the 2019 preseason and had some good moments. He also had 14 touchdown passes (and seven interceptions) for the Hotshots in the never-completed initial AAF season. The Rams also placed one of their top receivers, Cooper Kupp, on the COVID list, and while the circumstances would dictate if he is available Sunday, best case scenario, he wouldn't have any practice time with his new quarterback.

Hicks said he doesn't expect the Rams' offense to change much with Goff out, and that would make sense – Sean McVay's system keeps things rather simple with misdirection – and that has been the way the Rams have had their way with the Cardinals over the last seven meetings, all dominant Rams wins.

The Cardinals did score 28 against the Rams in the first meeting (surrendering 38 points), but the offense took a step back against the undermanned 49ers last weekend and are running out of time to find consistency.

"We have to figure out how we get better in a hurry and how we improve what we did on Saturday," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "And that's on me to figure out how to make those changes and get it rolling in the right direction in a hurry."

If the Cards win, their most likely destination at this point seems like New Orleans or perhaps Seattle, with an outside chance at frigid Green Bay in the first round. If not, it'll be time to talk about 2021.

"There's more on the line here than just us feeling bad," Pugh said. "People won't have jobs if we don't make the playoff games. We know what's at stake."

It doesn't take any scoreboard watching to figure it out this weekend.

"How do I feel about it? Shoot, it's in our hands," Hicks said. "At the end of the day, we win we're in, and everybody understands that. That's what you play for, to control your own destiny."

Images from the Week 16 home finale against San Francisco at State Farm Stadium.

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