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Embarrassment, increased drive shape Cards for playoff run

January 28, 2009|By BOB BAUM

TAMPA, Fla. -- Even the weather in Arizona was gloomy in the aftermath of the Cardinals' 40-point loss to New England.

One game remained before the playoffs began, and coach Ken Whisenhunt was mad.

"That was the first time I ... saw him really upset," nose tackle Bryan Robinson said.

The grueling Christmas week of practice that followed somehow transformed these NFL chumps into NFC champs who face Pittsburgh Sunday in the Super Bowl.

"I think it's easy to look back on it now and say that it was the turning point," Whisenhunt said on Wednesday. "Obviously, I was very upset with the way we were playing. I also was concerned about a playoff game being two weeks away and the style of football that we were playing."

Concerned is way too mild a word. He was as embarrassed as he was angry, and he apologized to the community.

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"We've worked hard to create something here, to gain the trust of a lot of our fans," he said at the time, "and we feel like we've let them down."

Whisenhunt then issued a public warning to his players.

"We've got a few guys that need to pick up their game," he said then. "If they don't, they'll be some other guys playing."

Whisenhunt put the team in full pads for heavy workouts in a chilly rain on Christmas Eve day. Christmas morning was the same, and the weather was even more miserable for a team accustomed to sunny workouts with temperatures in the 70s.

Usually low-keyed, Whisenhunt let his team have it. He hollered, he criticized.

"He said, 'You know what? Bring the big-boy pads," Robinson said on Wednesday. "That's the only way I know to basically show I'm not lettin' up, that I'm keeping my foot on the gas pedal and we'll see what happens.'"

Whisenhunt told the players that anyone who didn't give it his all would not play in the playoffs.

"It made us wake up and realize the playoffs were coming and if we were going to keep playing like we did, we would have a short playoff run," defensive end Bertrand Berry said.

Arizona is 4-0 since then.

The Cardinals beat the Seahawks 34-21 in Seattle's final game under coach Mike Holmgren. They opened the playoffs by beating Atlanta 30-24, then stunned the Panthers in Carolina 33-13 before beating Philadelphia 32-25 to win the NFC championship.

Few sports turnarounds have been more dramatic.

"We're a young football team. They're learning as they go, so we just have to see if we can put together one more," assistant head coach Russ Grimm said.

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