Team captains (l to r) Lyle Sendlein, Anthony Sherman, Adrian Wilson, Reggie Walker and Paris Lenon hope to lead the Cards toward a second-half surge.
ATLANTA -- Daryl Washington was working his way through a plate of sandwiches and meatballs when he hung his head.
"Pssssh," he said, shaking his head from side to side.
"Wow. That, right there, that win, playing an away game, (after) losing five straight, would pretty much substitute the two previous losses we've had. That's what I think it would do. And it'd give us momentum through the (last) six games we play.
"The Atlanta game, we should treat it like a Super Bowl."
That's how big Sunday's game is to the Cardinals.
The Cards may have lost five straight, but they haven't hung their heads for good. They saw it happen last season when a 1-6 start blossomed into an 8-8 season. With seven games left this year, one win, they believe, can turn 2012 around. Just like that.
"We're not out of this," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "As you saw last year we were able to turn it around down the stretch. If we could do that now while we're still 4-5 and (within) distance from all the other guys, we have a chance to do something.
"For us there's a lot riding on this game. We don't want to go to 4-6 and expect to do something beyond that. For us to get a win and get back to 5-5 would be very big for us."
Awaiting the Cardinals in Atlanta is one of the hottest – and refocused – teams in the league. After starting 8-0, the Falcons lost to New Orleans last weekend, which isn't good news for the Cards. Atlanta is 18-3 coming off a loss under coach Mike Smith.
To give the Falcons their first losing streak of the season, the Cardinals need to start fast, coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
"I think this team performs well when we do something good early in the game," he said. "We've shown at times we can come back when we don't do well and finish strong but it seems like when we make a play early in the game, it pumps us up and it gives us confidence and we play better and that's what your focus has got to be."
During last weekend's bye, the Cardinals' coaching staff has focused on figuring out how to end the five-game skid. Earlier this week, Whisenhunt announced that changes will be made, but declined to expand on what they would be.
Even around the Cardinals' locker room there's been talk of said changes, Rhodes added.
But that talk hasn't hinged on negativity, Washington said. The atmosphere and the vibes have been positive despite the possibility of not having defensive end Calais Campbell, who missed most practice of the week with a calf injury.
During his nine seasons, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has seen the Cardinals in this type of situation before. If they return to Arizona with a win, he'll bask in it until he returns to work Monday. But the veteran was hesitant to stack any more weight on a victory.
"Each week presents a new challenge but we just need to find a win against whomever we can get it against," Fitzgerald said. "Atlanta is next on our schedule, so we'll take one."
The last time the Cardinals won, Arizona was still sweating in 100-degree temperatures. With less than two months left in the season, the Cardinals still find themselves in a position to control their postseason fate. That alone, Washington said, has the Cardinals asking themselves one question among all others: "How are we going to finish?"
They have seven games to answer that question. And as quarterback John Skelton said Friday, whether anyone outside of the Cardinals' locker room believes they can make put together a run similar to last season's doesn't matter.
"I won't say that's a comfortable feeling, but I think that's who we are," Skelton said. "We probably play best when we're underdogs and no one really expects anything out of us. People call the 4-0 start a fluke, and rightfully so, because we've lost the last five. All we can do is worry about ourselves, go out there and play the game, no matter who our opponent is."