The Cards are searching for their first home victory Sunday in a crucial game against Houston.
The most crucial outcome last season for the Cardinals arguably didn't even include the Cards – it came in New York, when the Eagles upset the Giants in Giants Stadium, sending the NFC Championship game to University of Phoenix Stadium.
Glendale was where teams went to lose. Including playoffs the Cardinals won eight of 10 games in their nest, and it emerged as a home-field advantage the team dreamed of when the stadium opened.
A year later, the Cardinals are searching for their first home win, with the Texans visiting Sunday. The bigger picture asks for the path the Cards need to travel to return to the playoffs, but there is little question how success at home plays into the equation.
"I am surprised we are 0-2 at home," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "A couple plays here and there, but the fact is we are 0-2. We have the fans … and we need to capitalize on that."
Countless times coach Ken Whisenhunt has pointed to the fans as having helped his team, so it wasn't surprising to hear him offer up those in the stands as motivation.
"We feel an obligation to the fans because of the way they have supported us," Whisenhunt said. "We have to play better and re-establish our home-field advantage. To me, that's what makes this an important game for us."
It goes beyond that, of course. With a 1-2 record, the Cardinals need a victory not only to keep the season-ticket holders happy but also to retain leverage in the NFC West race. The Cards lost a half-game on their bye week when the division-leading 49ers beat St. Louis, but there could be opportunity to make up ground when the 49ers host Atlanta Sunday.
"They are all urgent," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "But they are especially when you are behind the eight-ball like we are at this point."
Said cornerback Bryant McFadden, "It always has to be urgency, even if we were 2-1. You never want to be comfortable or relaxed. In this league, you can't afford to not have your motor always running."
The record of the teams that have beaten the Cardinals is 7-1, a detail that probably shouldn't be ignored. But after the team's last game – a disappointing 31-10 loss to Indianapolis – and with a two-week break after a bye week, the Cardinals have made an attempt to recalibrate before the season gets away from them.
As the week leading to the Texans' game progressed, the Cards seemed to blend an upbeat intensity into practice, which was one of the coaching staff's teaching points.
"Everybody is telling us (before the season) that we're a good team, we went to the Super Bowl, and you have a tendency to play tight sometimes because of that," Whisenhunt said. " It's, 'Gosh, I can't miss this play because we're expected to make these plays.' That's what the focus has been, getting back to playing … when you say loose, I don't want people to get the wrong idea, we still want to be disciplined, but having fun and making plays because they are feeling less pressure to be perfect."
It's possible that has been part of the problem in the home games, knowing how successful the Cardinals had proven to be last year and trying to match those results.
Regardless of the Cards' early outcomes, Houston coach Gary Kubiak insisted the Texans haven't forgotten what it means to play in Arizona.
"No one knows how this league will go year to year," Kubiak said. "As it starts to unfold teams start to separate themselves and (the Cardinals) have played a tough schedule early. Winning on the road in this league is extremely difficult and doing it at a place where a team is coming off a Super Bowl year makes it more difficult."
The Cardinals are counting on it.
"We definitely have had a good run at home the last few years since we have been in the new stadium," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We want to get that back, that positive mojo."
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