Coach Ken Whisenhunt (center) and the Cardinals had a difficult trip to New England, but it may have sparked their current playoff run.
Ken Whisenhunt walked off the Gillette Stadium turf on that snowy December day cold and angry, his team having just been whacked, 47-7, by the New England Patriots to lose for the fourth time in five games.
The Cardinals had long known they would host a playoff game. But the Cardinals coach wanted to make sure that wasn't all they did once the postseason began.
"Somewhere that (next) week we found ourselves again," Whisenhunt said.
The Cards have won three straight games since the Foxboro disaster, including
two playoff games. They have earned themselves another home playoff game, Sunday in the NFC Championship against Philadelphia. They are 60 minutes from a Super Bowl.
The New England game itself might not have been the turning point – defensive end Bertrand Berry said he doesn't take much out of losses, and quarterback Kurt Warner questioned whether the Cards' current play was sparked in the snow – but there is little question the team's fortunes have been different since then.
"I don't want to say we had a lull or took a couple of games off, but we clinched and that was new territory for a lot of guys," wide receiver Jerheme Urban said. "We might have taken a deep breath and relaxed too much."
Whisenhunt made players wear pads for parts of practice, unusual for NFL teams late in the season. The Cards were one of the few teams with a regular practice on Christmas Day. The weather wasn't pretty in the Valley that week, and neither was Whisenhunt's mood.
The coach threatened some players by telling them if they didn't improve their practice habits, they could find themselves benched on game day.
"Guys knew we had to make changes," running back Tim Hightower said. "We couldn't keep doing what we were doing and expect something different. Like my parents told me a long time ago, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Something had to change."
Practices became more physical. Whisenhunt said the players realized that with only one regular-season game left – home against Seattle – they didn't have much time to make sure they were righted before their errors torpedoed any postseason hopes.
"Personally there were a lot of things I was missing," Hightower said. "I had to get back to basics. Coaches called me out on that, and I had to take it.
"We all had to make the commitment, either you are all the way in or you're not in at all. That's what we did. You could tell, even in practice, guys started taking more responsibility."
The Cardinals played better against the Seahawks, coming up with a 34-21 win.
While it wasn't a perfect showing, it did flush the bad taste of the New England trip and give tangible proof the Cards post-Patriots work was working.
"We owed it to our fans, we owed it to the city and we owed it to our team to play better than we had played," Whisenhunt said.
The Cardinals had a couple of key points in their season – the rally against the Jets to make a game out of the halftime blowout in New York, the signature win against the Cowboys, the win in Seattle that all but clinched the division – but it's hard not to see the Foxboro flop at the top of the list.
"Maybe it was a wake-up call," Warner said.
"Whatever it was, it's got us playing pretty good football right now."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 1/13/09.