Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (right) shakes hands with Colts tight end Dallas Clark after the Cards fell to the Colts on "Sunday Night Football" in September.
NEWARK, N.J. – The Cardinals knew their season would be analyzed and picked apart more often this year after making a Super Bowl appearance. They also knew their two appearances as the spotlighted game of the week – NBC's "Sunday Night Football" – would help shape national opinion.
The first attempt didn't go well. The Cardinals lost, at home, to Indianapolis, 31-10. And as if the Sunday night follow-up – against the Giants in New York this weekend – didn't already carry significant weight, the knowledge everyone will be watching yet again adds more.
"We haven't played well on national television," running back Tim Hightower said. "I'm not cutting any corners; I'm just keeping it real. We haven't played well in the spotlight, whether you go back to Philly last year, whether you go back to Indy this year, we had some opportunities.
"There are some opinions about this football team, not that we put any investment into those opinions, but anytime you get a chance to showcase yourself on national television, you have to step up to the challenge."
The Cardinals (3-2) have played well on the road of late, including a 2-0 record this season. But neither of those opponents – Jacksonville and Seattle – match up with a Giants team ranking sixth overall in offense and has the No. 1-ranked defense.
The Giants did get shredded last week in New Orleans, exposing some problems in their pass defense. The Cards were careful to talk around that subject this week, frequently referring to the Giants that were 5-0 before that game.
"They are the best team in football," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "Honestly, I don't know how they lost against the Saints. I'm not sure how we're going to beat them. Hopefully they make some mistakes."
Dockett may have been using a touch of sarcasm, given the way most pundits still view the Cardinals. To be fair, the Cards haven't done well when playing in view of the major media in the Eastern corridor, not just against the Colts on national TV and the Thanksgiving loss in Philadelphia but also their troubling result in New England last season.
There is a statement that can be made in New York.
"I don't think we look at it as any bigger of a game," Hightower said, "but the game has more publicity, everybody is watching, it's New York in New York and we know how that city is with football, plus they are coming off that big loss last week. There are a lot of things that are riding on it for them and for us.
"It's probably as close to a playoff atmosphere that we will see this year (in the regular season). It's a big game for a lot of reasons. It's a great chance for us."
The Giants have some issues of their own. Coach Tom Coughlin, speaking to Arizona reporters on conference call this week, was clearly still angry at the way his team performed against the Saints.
The Giants still are missing three key defensive players who are injured: cornerback Aaron Ross, defensive lineman Chris Canty and linebacker Michael Boley.
New York, however, has succeeded in recent years in rebounding from bad losses to reel off win streaks. The Giants also know they beat the Cardinals last season, and feel they've done a good job when playing in a nationally televised game such as Sunday's.
"You want me to give you a formula for how we approach it?" Coughlin said. "I think you just have to be aware of all the things going into it. … There are things that take place you might not expect. They are unexpected and you're not very happy about it."
The Cardinals certainly have their own expectations. Quarterback Kurt Warner said last year's 37-29 loss proved the Cards can play with the Giants, and it is mistakes that provided the difference in the game. The Cardinals avoided those mistakes in Seattle last week and romped to a win.
They'd like to carry that over to Giants Stadium, and show the "Sunday Night Football" audience their performance against the Colts was a fluke.
"I think our guys have pride," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "They feel they let our fans down a little bit because of the way we played (against Indianapolis). I think they are focused on this game. They feel like we are playing better football right now and that's the biggest thing."
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