Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (right) share a moment during the Cards' win last season in Seattle.
SEATTLE – The season is only a quarter old for the Arizona Cardinals, and since no one has found a way to dominate the NFC West, losing at Qwest Field this weekend doesn't look like the death sentence it could have been.
But the Cards understand the opportunity that awaits at the home of its division rival. Winning in Seattle last season was the concrete confidence boost that team needed en route to the playoffs. Doing it again could create a repeat benefit, especially with the Cardinals embarking on three road games in four weeks, with trips to the New York Giants and Chicago.
"We only play 16 games," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "This isn't baseball or basketball. You have to bring it every single week and you can't get too far behind. We can't afford to lose another game in the division. It's as simple as that."
The division-leading 49ers are off this weekend and will sit on their 3-2 record. A Cardinals' victory would pull Arizona into a tie with San Francisco (although technically the Niners would continue to hold the tiebreaker after their Week One win in Glendale). The Seahawks, sporting a 2-3 record, are aiming to get back to .500 after a poor start.
The Cards must deal with the deafening noise at Qwest, but their bigger challenge may be dealing with Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck came back from a rib injury last week to throw four touchdown passes in a 41-0 win at home over Jacksonville and to a man, the Cardinals understand how much different – and how much more effective – the Seahawks are when Hasselbeck is playing.
"Looking at his confidence and charisma in the huddle and how he comes to the line of scrimmage and throws the ball, he just has a certain confidence about him those guys feed off of," linebacker Bertrand Berry said. "It will be imperative we disrupt that timing and take away some of that confidence."
Hasselbeck's confidence and playful ways are among the avenues the rivalry between the teams has manifested itself. He and Cardinals defensive end Darnell Dockett have traded Twitter messages during the week. And talking via conference call, Hasselbeck talked so glowingly about individual Cardinals this week he was told he was making it sound like a love-fest was coming in Seattle.
"Even though it is such a big rivalry game, I think it is," Hasselbeck said. "Even back to when we were trying to take this division from the Rams when they were great … it was hard because we had great relationships.
"Sometimes you just seem to hit it off and have respect for a guy on the other side of the field a little bit."
Yet there is little question there is an edge to the matchup, and that's not meaning ex-Cardinal-turned-Seahawk Edgerrin James.
Dockett called the game "personal" between the teams in the moments after the Cards beat the Texans last week. Hasselbeck wasn't thrilled with safety Adrian Wilson last year after Wilson belted him in the game at Seattle – Hasselbeck later apologized for his criticism of Wilson – and current coach Jim Mora, then an assistant, wasn't happy the Cards threw to Steve Breaston in the waning seconds of a 13-point win in the season finale in Arizona when the Cards were trying to get Breaston to the 1,000-yard mark.
More than anything, the Seahawks, shredded by injuries last season, weren't happy to cede the NFC West crown to the Cardinals after four straight division championships.
But, said Fitzgerald, "they are no more angry than we were all those years when they beat us up all the time. We know that feeling and we never want to go back to it."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he wants to see how his team responds – with the many road games approaching, playing in a place like Seattle and to the up-and-down way his team played in its win against Houston.
But Whisenhunt also believes his team reacts better when they approach the clichéd "one game at a time." This week, that means the Seahawks, and its unmistakable impact on the NFC West.
"It's going to be a definite challenge," quarterback Kurt Warner said, "especially with all the stuff riding on these games and where everyone is at in this division."
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