Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cards remain reluctant to become road warriors

Note: This column appears in the 10/23 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 10/24 issue of the Peoria Times



I have to admit, I have been curiously amused by what now has become an almost indisputable fact: that Ken Whisenhunt made a crucial mistake a month ago in keeping his team on the east coast for two weeks instead of coming home, which ultimately resulted in a 56-35 loss to the New York Jets.

The idea that grown men who play football for a living cannot adequately function after “unnecessarily” being deprived of the comforts of home for an additional week is ludicrous. I also love how labeling this a mistake implies that the Cardinals would have beaten the Jets if they would have just come home first. As if the Cardinals deserve any benefit of the doubt when it comes to winning on the road.

The reason the Cardinals lost to the Jets is not because nobody was around to tuck them in at night the week prior -- it’s because they haven’t yet learned how to win on the road. It’s the same reason they lost to the Redskins earlier this year; the same reason they lost six of eight road games in 2007, ultimately costing themselves a shot at the playoffs.

The end result of this has been an inability to sustain any kind of momentum. What’s interesting now is that the Arizona Cardinals are, quite possibly, at the very peak of their momentum pole. Not only did their last game witness them beating the hated Cowboys in shocking and dramatic fashion, but they’re also coming off a bye week in which they’ve had plenty of time to rest, heal and yes -- enjoy all the comforts of home.

Now that they’re heading back to the east coast to face the Carolina Panthers, I am, as everyone is, intrigued to see how the team responds. Unfortunately, I have a decent guess about how it’s going to turn out.

Let’s do a gambling analogy, shall we? It could be argued that the Cardinals are playing with house money in this game. They stand at 4-2 with a two game lead in a division that appears ready to fold. Wow, I surprised myself with that analogy! In fact, let’s do another one: Take the Panthers. And the points.

No disrespect to the hometown team here, but until the Cardinals prove they can win on the road, I’m not buying into the fact that they will. Sorry.

Maybe they can prove me wrong. (It’s happened before. No, really!) There is no way that Whisenhunt and his staff are treating this game in “house money” style, but I wonder if -- coming off of the most important win of the Whisenhunt Era -- this team won’t fail to notice that this game is the biggest challenge of their season. Because it most certainly is.

The Cardinals, with their immense talent, new stadium, and burgeoning fan base, have already established themselves as the team that nobody wants to face in Glendale. They are 9-2 at home since the beginning of last season. Over that same span, they have won exactly three road games, against the 49ers, Rams, and Bengals, three of the league’s worst teams. The Panthers, on the other hand, are good.

Funny thing is, I think the Cardinals are better. Though I’m not sure they’ll be able to prove it. For Cardinals’ fans sake, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. This team has made major strides towards contender status, and it’s about the time they took it to the next level. Because ultimately, if the Cardinals can’t win on the road, then what’s the point?

No comments: