Tight end Todd Heap stretches for a touchdown in the Cards' season-closing victory.
The goal down the stretch, with the division title not an option and the playoffs only remote, was to reach .500, and gain some momentum.
After the Cards closed out the season with an overtime win – and that 8-8 record – coach Ken Whisenhunt said "it sets the table for us."
"We are 1-0 in 2012," Whisenhunt said.
With that caveat that, of course, the Cards don't get an extra win already for next season, the good vibe was felt. Veteran safety Hamza Abdullah was finishing up some locker cleaning Wednesday morning, noted as much.
Since the merger in 1970, only eight teams prior to the Cardinals began a season with six losses in their first seven games before coming back to post at least a .500 record (No team started 0-7 and got to .500). Such a poor start usually dooms a team as they fray from within. More fans were talking about the race for the No. 1 overall draft pick and Andrew Luck than climbing out of the hole.
Now that they have their strong finish, however, the Cardinals can't be sure how that will translate. Every team is different – we hear that comment every year, from coaches and players. Whisenhunt has noted the last time the Cards went 8-8, they followed up with a 9-7 record and a Super Bowl trip, not that the parallel would be anything but coincidence.
(Although it's fun to note the Cards could also complete an interesting cycle with a 9-7 record next year. In 2006, the Cards were 5-11, followed by 8-8 in '07 and 9-7 in '08. They were 5-11 in '10, now 8-8 in '11, leaving what for 2012?)
History doesn't necessarily provide a guide either, although this is as good a place as any to look at those other eight teams who climbed out of the same hole for uplifting ends – and what they did the following season:
-- The 1970 Bengals actually made the playoffs, going from 1-6 to 8-6, although they lost their playoff game. In 1971, Cincinnati couldn't figure out a better way to start, beginning 1-7 this time en route to a 4-10 record.
-- The 1974 Jets actually began 1-7 before rallying to finish 7-7. The next season, they got off to a 2-1 start – and then the wheels fell off as New York ended up with a 3-11 record.
-- The 1981 Redskins – featuring current Cardinals assistant head coach Russ Grimm on the offensive line – are going to be the team to point to for any team with a strong finishing kick. They went 1-6, got to 8-8, and then in 1982 (despite a strike-ravaged schedule) Washington rolled to an 8-1 regular-season record and won all four postseason games to capture a Super Bowl championship.
-- The 1984 Bengals fought back but it didn't help much in 1985 as they worked young quarterback Boomer Esiason into the mix, going 7-9 in 1985.
-- The 1984 Packers couldn't take a step forward either. They were also 8-8 in 1985.
-- The 1996 Bengals (that's right, Cincinnati shows up three times in these greatest hits) got 1-6 under coach Mike Shula and the 7-2 finish behind replacement Bruce Coslet. They didn't learn their lesson, though, beginning 1997 at 1-7 before rallying to get to 7-9.
-- The 1999 Jets, with Todd Haley as receivers coach, got back to .500 but that wasn't enough to keep Bill Parcells as coach. Al Groh arrived in 2000 – along with new assistant Ken Whisenhunt, who shared an office with Haley – and the Jets started 6-1 on their way to a 9-7 record.
-- The 2009 Titans wouldn't have made it to .500 if the Cardinals hadn't allowed a 99-yard drive. The next season, the Titans couldn't find their footing again as quarterback Vince Young seemed to lose his magic, finishing 6-10.
Now the 2011 Cardinals will get their own chance for an encore.