Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sits by himself during the Cardinals' disappointing 35-14 loss to Minnesota Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Karlos Dansby wears a "C" on the front of his jersey as defensive captain, and he is one of the Cardinals' leaders in the locker room.
But Dansby, without a playoff appearance in his career, has never been in this position before. Few Cardinals have, so he admitted Monday he wasn't sure how much his team needed leadership at this point in the season, and how much it needed leadership from veterans who know what is to come.
"Tough to say," Dansby said. "Maybe we need some T.O. (Terrell Owens) in here, get a damn fire struck up on somebody -- maybe that's what it takes to win and motivate people. He did a great job motivating (Tony) Romo and (Jason) Witten and getting under their skin."
Whether the Cardinals would want to tread toward the Dallas Cowboys' drama of the past week is doubtful. It did speak to Dansby's level of frustration after the Cards' performance Sunday – a 35-14 home loss to the Vikings in a game that essentially cost Arizona a chance at the No. 3 playoff seed.
With two games left, something needs to change for the Cards, who have lost three of four. Safety Adrian Wilson suggested during his weekly radio appearance on XTRA 910 Monday that the veterans who had been to the playoffs now need to become more vocal.
How that could translate to the locker room remains a question.
"You always have leadership on a football team," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "But a lot of these guys don't know how to lead in this situation because they haven't experienced it themselves."
Whisenhunt suggested Monday the Cardinals were distracted going into the Vikings' game because of the division-clinching victory the team had the previous Sunday against the Rams -- and from the ensuing pats on the back afterward from fans and the media.
Those compliments are long gone now. Even defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was saying after the Minnesota loss the Cardinals had won a weak division. The popular phrase Monday was the warning that the Cards remain a work in progress.
"This whole thing is a process and we have to understand that," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "As much as we want to be the best team in the league right now, we're just not there yet.
"Right now the thing I believe is we can beat anyone on any given Sunday. But our margin of error is slim. The better the teams you play against, the slimmer that margin is and the harder it is to not make mistakes."
Whisenhunt said the Cardinals continue to build a foundation to being a successful team, "but this team has never experienced winning a division before. This team has never experienced winning three games in a row. We have to be better about handling those things."
That's where the leadership should show itself.
Warner was hesitant to say it would take vocal leadership. He said there have to be players that want to listen, and that in some cases leadership by example was more important.
"I don't think it's so much of whether you have been in the playoffs or not," said Warner, one of 14 players on the Cards' 53-man roster to have appeared in a playoff game. "The idea of leadership is setting the standard around you for teammates to follow.
"Nothing I do is going to change two weeks from now when I get to the playoffs. I'm not going to prepare different, I'm not going to practice different, I'm not going to compete any different on the field."
Cornerback Rod Hood, himself a veteran of seven postseason games, said a leader is a leader. He can tell his teammates how playoff intensity increases, but someone like Wilson – whom teammates look up to – can still install a sense of urgency.
And that, Hood said, is what the Cardinals need right now.
"The playoffs are going to come," Hood said, "whether we're ready or not."
With Anquan Boldin struggling of late, including key fumbles in both the Minnesota and Philadelphia games, Whisenhunt said it was possible the Cards have too many packages installed for the wide receiver.
"Maybe there is something as far as having too much stuff in, too many things to think about," Whisenhunt said. "As we go forward, we'll look at that. We have a lot of things in we are trying to do, and sometimes maybe, with that many things, you don't operate as efficiently. That would be the only thing. I haven't seen anything from Anquan on the practice field or interacting with his teammates or his coaches that would lead me to believe otherwise." …
The only injury reported by Whisenhunt was a bad ankle for defensive end Travis LaBoy. LaBoy will be re-evaluated this week.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 12/15/08.