After Reggie Wells and the Cardinals captured the NFC Championship last season, it placed a heavier burden on accomplishments in 2009.
A Super Bowl appearance changes perspective.
For a team. For the players and coaches. For the fans.
The Cardinals aren?t where they thought they?d be after three games, and dealing with the ongoing expectations can be a weight that drags down an attempted post-bye renaissance.
?I think we have played a little tight the first couple of games because of those expectations,? coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ?Part of our focus this week is to get back to playing with confidence.?
The Cardinals are trying to get back to .500 Sunday against the Texans ? coincidentally, another team trying to embrace high preseason hopes. If the Cardinals win, they?ll be 2-2 after four games ? just like last season, when they won their first division title since 1975.
The Cards are counting on becoming a repeat playoff team for the first time since that same 1975 season.
?Our expectations haven?t changed,? wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. ?For us, it?s continue to work on the little things and getter better in practice,?
Offensively, the Cardinals were coming off a record-setting year where they scored more points in the regular season than any other team in franchise history.
Getting back to that level would get the team moving in the right direction. Many of the hopes for the Cards were pinned on repeating that offensive success, given that all the key pieces on that side of the ball returned.
Defensively, coordinator Bill Davis has only seen glimpses of brilliance but not a full 60-minute performance.
?We?ve put some good quarters out there, really top-notch quarters, but we haven?t put a game together yet,? Davis said. ?We?ve had some mental breakdowns and physical breakdowns. Right now we?ve got to get our consistency down and who knows where we can go at the end of this season.?
The Texans are going through similar pains. Houston, 2-2, not only was expected to be better than their 8-8 record in 2008, but some thought they would be the 2009 version of the Cardinals, going deep into the playoffs.
?Last year, it was something that was talked about a lot,? Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson said. ?After going 8-8 (in 2007), guys were like, ?The next year might be the year to take that step.? Then we started last season 0-4 and finished 8-8 again. This season, guys aren?t talking about it. Last year, we just talked about it so much it was like beating a drum. Guys just know what we have to get done to accomplish that goal.?
Houston coach Gary Kubiak doesn?t buy into what the so-called experts think.
?You are trying to prepare your football team for the long haul in a tough league,? he said. ?We?ve obviously made some improvement in the last couple of years but this is a new season. We have had some highs and lows already in the course of this first month. We just have to stay focused on what we are doing.?
The Cardinals are doing the same, counting on the bye week to have helped them refocus on their goals.
?We?re only three games in,? Whisenhunt said. ?We have shown at times we can be a pretty good football team like in the Jacksonville game. The problem with us is consistency and turnovers. Those are all things we can control. If we do that, then we?ll live up to those expectations.?
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