Things may look grim with a road loss to the Jags
You could hear it a thousand times late last Sunday. In locker rooms and on postgame radio talk-shows all across the fruited plains, the number "15" kept popping up.
Not so coincidental, it generally comes from locker rooms on the losing end of the scoreboard in their season opener. It especially happens in locker rooms that a favored team going into the game, comes up short.
"There are still 15 more to play."
And for many teams, this is true. Okay, technically speaking, for all teams that's true, since they haven't started getting byes. But for some teams, it's more true than for others.
Yes, as I type, the Cardinals have 15 games to play. One loss is no big deal. I mean, were you expecting an unbeaten season? They're going to lose some games, right?
So, running with that theory, the Cardinals are in no worse shape than...oh, 15 other NFL teams at this point.
But as noted, for many teams, this theory is more true than it is for others. And any fan of Arizona football knows, this team never makes anything easy. So you can guess which category they fall into.
The Cards are one of but a few teams that can, and should, consider this a 'must win' game. Jaguar fans, both of them, can argue all they want that the Cardinals are in no different boat than their 0-1 team at this point. They can argue 'til the next sellout at Jacksonville Memorial Stadium (which could run into eons)that their Jags are just as one game out of first place as the Cardinals.
But that's not exactly true. Technically, it is. But in the reality world of NFL football, it's not. Sorry, Jag-fan.
The Cardinals are reining NFC Champions. There are expectations on a Conference Champion that other teams only hope to dangle to the masses.
The Jaguars lost 17,000 season ticket holders in one offseason. They are expected to show less games locally than the 0-16 Detroit Lions. If that doesn't scream "THERE ARE NO EXPECTATIONS HERE!" from the "faithful," I'm not sure what does.
And for the Arizona Cardinals, a team that "expectations" would generally be associated with top 10 picks in late April, this is new terrain. This is a brand of expectations not seen in these parts since...well, since these parts were a dusty capitol city with a population under 100,000.
And yes, (all together now)...since Harry Truman was President. Oh, and the Cardinals were still 13 season from moving to St Louis, and 41 years prior to their Arizona arrival.
Added pressure for this team is their miserable road record. Especially in games east of the Mississippi. Add to that, the offensive struggles as they search (thus far in vein) for that elusive 2008 "rhythm."
And top it all off with the always powerful Indianapolis Colts coming to town next week, this is as close to a 'must win' as a team can get with 15 more games to play.
It seems, all this being said, that the players are well aware of their situation.
"The great thing about that is we set an expectation," Cards QB Kurt Warner said. "We expect to live up to it and we have to expect to live up to it. And when we don’t, people get disappointed. That’s what we tried to build here so we can’t get mad at that."
Uhhhh, okay. That's all well and good. It's how I want my quarterback thinking. But there's more to it than that.
I prefer to think of it as Cards defensive tackle Darnell Dockett puts it. "At the end of the season, when you get to games 12 and 13, you start looking back at those games you should’ve won that could've put you in first place, or locked up a playoff spot."
"Those games you can’t get back. So yeah, every game is a must-win," he added.
Those are the words, as a fan with expectations, that I want to hear coming out of Tempe. While three teams that started the season 0-2 went to the playoffs in 2008, it was an aberration.
Overall, only 14 percent of teams that start out 0-2 make the playoffs.
With Payton manning and the Colts riding into town next week, going into that game 1-1 looks a lot less grimm than an 0-2 start would elicit.
That all makes this east coast trip, maybe not a "must game," but a "You damn well better win" game!
Or you can expect to see (or not see) a few blacked out games in the desert, too, if it continues. The second to the last thing this team wants is for the faithful to lose expectations.
The last thing this team wants is for the world to think that 2008 was the aberration.