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Trying Not To Bottom Out

Cards, unlike NFC West brethren, have avoided rebuild


Defensive end Calais Campbell sacks Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck last season.

The problems could have been long-term, from the day Kurt Warner decided he didn't want to play football anymore.

Certainly, the Cards could have dipped, especially when Matt Leinart didn't work out. The Cardinals didn't have a good season last year, but the whole plan of an "aggressive" offseason was predicated on the idea they couldn't go through it again.

Every team in the NFC West is in separate stages of a transition. The 49ers have a new coach but, for some reason, kept the same quarterback, probably keeping them treading water outside the postseason for at least another year. The Rams went through three seasons with a total of only six victories, an ugly path that finally earned them quarterback Sam Bradford. The Seahawks finally moved on from quarterback Matt Hasselbeck this year, and the early returns are that Seattle could end up among the worst teams in the league.

Given the opportunities within the division, the last thing the Cardinals want to do is bottom out.

"When they say a team is going through transition, I feel like people try to use it as an excuse to have a bad season," tackle Levi Brown said. "We've got the guys who we got, and you go and play."

The Cardinals' visit to Seattle Sunday is a contrast in organizations. The Seahawks managed to win the NFC West last season despite a 7-9 record, and after winning a playoff game there seemed to be some momentum. The Cards seemed to be in limbo after a five-win season.

After the lockout, however, the Seahawks moved on from Hasselbeck and went with Tarvaris Jackson, as opposed to the Cards making the big play for Kevin Kolb. Jackson's acquisition – along with a massive amount of other changes – seemed to signal rebuilding.

"Our intentions were to go right back after it," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Last year no one thought we had a chance to be involved in the division and we found a way. Every move we made was to get good right now. We didn't try something for the future. That was not a thought."

The bump that was 2010 wasn't a thought for the Cardinals either. The Cards look much different than the team coach Ken Whisenhunt first took over in 2007 and even from the team that reached the Super Bowl a season later.

The last thing any coach wants to talk about is rebuilding. The roster infusion in the short offseason – including the trade of Kolb – was about immediate respectability.

"I don't think about that, rebuilding," Whisenhunt said. "When you lose good football players, it is never easy to replace them, whether it is through free agency or retiring. That's why you have to bring your young players along and at some point, they have to play for you."

Winning within that prism isn't always simple, but starting over usually means massive change anyway. In some ways, winning is about job preservation for the guys already in place. It also helps you keep the good players you already have.

"We hope it's the last time we have to deal with that," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said about last season, and the idea of staying competitive.

That should serve the Cardinals well, even as they work through some of their own issues. The Rams are past their lowest point, but haven't proven they have fully recovered. The Seahawks and 49ers seem to have a longer road ahead.

Not that the Cards are concerned about that.

"Don't nobody care about the times you are struggling," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "They don't care about that. It's all about what you do on Sundays. We can make a million excuses about why every team is not winning, but at the end of the day, it is wins and losses.

"When we went through our drought last year, no one gave a damn. Seattle or the Rams might have a drought, but we don't care, we have our own issues."

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