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The Cardiac Cardinals

Late victories starting to reach record territory


Patrick Peterson gets loose on his 32-yard punt return in overtime Sunday to help set up the Cards' game-winning points against the Browns.

The tweet came Dec. 4, a few hours after the Cardinals had knocked off the Dallas Cowboys in overtime when LaRod Stephens-Howling took Kevin Kolb's pass for a twisting, turning 52-yard scoring celebration.

"The Cardiac Cardinals. #birdgang" was all John Skelton wrote.

The phrase was brought up to him Monday. "I'm pretty sure I coined it on Twitter," the quarterback said earnestly, and he can be forgiven. When the nickname was first used for this football franchise, Don Coryell was winning games as coach in 1975, long before Skelton was born, and when it was brought back in 1998 for Jake Plummer's moment in the sun, Skelton was a 10-year-old living in Texas and the heart of Cowboys country.

Skelton did have one thing right: It applies to the current Cardinals, without question.

"You really want to start fast and be ahead and unfortunately we haven't been able to do that," linebacker O'Brien Schofield said. "This team doesn't give up, though, and we find a way."

Said Skelton, "There is always a belief."

The Cardinals have overcome a second-half deficit in all seven of their wins this season, one shy of the NFL's modern-era record (since 1970, held by six teams, most recently the 2010 New York Jets).

More amazingly, six of those wins have come after overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit, tying for second the most for a team in a season since 1970. The 2009 Indianapolis Colts won seven of their 12 victories by coming from behind in the final quarter.

"There is no panic with our team," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "You'd rather have it be the other way around. Being able to make plays at the end of the games and win, that's all part of learning how to play together.

"There is definitely a feeling of confidence with our guys, and really there's no fracturing of the team."

Skelton noted that each side of the ball has been encouraging the other – for instance, the slow starts for both sides against Cleveland Sunday. The situation was ripe for problems, and might have been had the Cards still been mired in losing.

"No one is getting down on anyone for messing up," Schofield said. "It's all positivity on the sideline. It's so fun to be around. You don't want to mess up but you don't have to worry about your teammates going in on you. They encourage you, 'Hey, you're better than that.' "

The only win in which the Cards haven't had to come from behind in the fourth quarter was against the Rams in St. Louis. The Cardinals have played an NFL-high 11 games this season decided by seven points or fewer, including all seven of their victories.

The comebacks have come in every fashion – three overtime wins, a fourth-down stand against the 49ers, touchdown passes from both Skelton and Kolb, a punt return by Patrick Peterson, multiple clutch defensive stands. "All we are missing is a defensive touchdown," Skelton said, "and we still have two games left."

The multi-pronged narrative the Cards have crafted goes to Whisenhunt's theory about the cliché "Learning how to win." Oft talked about, Whisenhunt said it's about confidence but mostly about everyone having a hand in impact plays.

The Browns' game had Schofield's back-to-back sacks, Skelton's pair of touchdown drives, Peterson's key overtime punt return and tight end Todd Heap reemerging as a threat.

"It means you have to raise your level at critical times," Whisenhunt said. "You have to have confidence guys are going to make plays. It's a learned thing because you gain the confidence to do it and your expectations are different."

It makes it hard, however. The last month, covering the Cards' four-game winning streak, the Cards have won by three, six, two and three points. And the six was against the Cowboys in overtime. Whisenhunt, however, said while close games seem tougher to endure, they aren't, at least for a coach.

"There's no difference – the toll emotionally it takes – when you're in those kinds of different situations," Whisenhunt insisted. "There's such a narrow margin between winning and losing in a lot of games, I think you just become accustomed to it."

For the players, however, the roller coaster can take a toll.

"There are so many guys (in the locker room) who say they have more gray hairs after the game," Skelton said. "The microcosms of an NFL game are hard to read when you are in the stands but when you are on the field, you really feel them. There are so many emotions that go into it, at the end of the game you are both physically and mentally exhausted."

Clever turn of the words or not, "Cardiac Cards" feels real.

"It is hard on the heart," Skelton said.

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