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Resting When They Can

Seeking bye, Cards have already tried to carve some time off this season


Veteran defensive backs Adrian Wilson and Bryant McFadden are among the Cardinals who could end up resting Sunday against the Packers.
In hopes to have a chance at the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed, the Cardinals must wait to see if the Vikings lose Sunday, before the kickoff against the Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium.

There are arguments for and against getting that seed and the resulting bye week. Teams with such a bye are only 7-9 the past four seasons; it's far from a free pass to the championship game.

But the grind leading to the playoffs can eat at a team, especially one that hasn't had week off since after the third game of the season.

"Guys are used to being banged up later in the year or playing hurt," veteran defensive back Ralph Brown said. "But mentally is what wears you down, the tedious aspect, waking up every day and studying, putting in new plays. You get tired, your brain wears out and the body follows."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has worked hard to help his players through the situation. The main point of "Victory Mondays," where players aren't required to come in and watch film or work out, is to give them some rest – although it stands as incentives on Sundays.

(Many players still show up on their own schedule to lift weights or begin watching film on the week anyway).

Whisenhunt also, as incentive, told the players they would get Christmas off – a rarity in the NFL given it was on a normal practice day – if they won in Detroit.

It's been a concept Whisenhunt has eyed since last season, when the run to the Super Bowl ate into the offseason and normal critical time off.

"You definitely feel it right now," Whisenhunt said. "We feel it as coaches and our players to a degree feel it. It's been nonstop even since last season. Once you know you are getting into the playoffs, you get past that, the adrenaline carries you. The last couple weeks, it's been hard. You feel worn out."

Whisenhunt said that was even the point of his supposedly "soft" training camp, to protect his team from an early physical toll knowing such a grind was coming.

With it, however, comes a level of trust the players must pay back.

"He always wanted our locker room to get to the point where the players police ourselves," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "When he throws us a bone, he expects us to go out there and return it. When it is time to practice, to be in the meeting room, we need to be almost perfect. At least give perfect effort."

This year, Whisenhunt has even had fewer padded practices over the season than usual. It's in contrast to late last season, when the Cards came back from the thrashing they endured in New England and were forced to practice, full-padded, in the freezing rain on Christmas.

"You've got to have the right team to (pull back)," Whisenhunt said. "We couldn't have done it last year, that's for sure."

If the Vikings indeed lose  Sunday before the Cards play, the Cardinals are going to go hard after a victory, hoping the Cowboys beat the Eagles and deliver what seemed unthinkable about three weeks ago – a first-round bye.

If the Vikings win and that carrot is removed, some key Cards will get rest anyway. Whisenhunt will make sure of that, which only makes sense. He's been doing it all season.

"I think guys think they are as worn down as they would be, but honestly, I think mentally, (the time off) has helped us and guys just don't know it," Brown said. "We're used to the grind but those days add up when you are off, no matter what anyone says. Your body thanks you for it."
The Cardinals cut kicker Mike Nugent Sunday with Neil Rackers having recovered from his groin injury. Defensive lineman Jason Banks was promoted from the practice squad to take Nugent's spot on the roster.

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