Winning Is The Cardinal Rule Under Coach Arians

Created on Dec. 21, 2013 3:41 AM EST

Five years ago, the Arizona Cardinals made one of the more improbable runs in NFL history. After a white-hot start to the season in which the team won seven of its first 10 games, Arizona stumbled down the stretch, losing four of its last six. Thanks to a weaker division, however, the Cardinals (9-7) made the playoffs for the first time since 1998 as the No. 4 seed.

Once the playoffs began, things really seemed to click. The Cards defeated the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles to earn their first ever trip to the Super Bowl.

Despite coming up short against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-23, the game marked a monumental moment in the team’s history and fans were clamoring to see what the defending NFC Champions would do over the course of the next few seasons.

Unfortunately, the years that followed never quite lived up to the high expectations of the fan base.

The Cardinals were again able to make the playoffs one season after their Super Bowl loss, but were blown out by the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round. In 2010, they won just five games, followed by eight in 2011 and five once again in 2012.

These lackluster performances prompted ownership to fire head coach Ken Whisenhunt and begin the search for someone with a fresh message to portray to the team.

That someone turned out to be Bruce Arians, who in a strange bit of irony was on the coaching staff responsible for ruining Arizona’s first Super Bowl appearance.

After his time in Pittsburgh came to an end, Arians was hired to become the offensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. After Indy’s Week 4 bye, however, he was quickly thrust into the lead role when head coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and forced to take a leave of absence for treatment. With Arians calling the shots, the young Colts stayed strong, finished the season 11-5 and clinched their first post-Manning playoff berth.

His leadership in the face of adversity was enough to not only earn Arians Coach of the Year honors, but also the chance to be an NFL head coach when Arizona came knocking.

Under Arians’ tutelage, the Cardinals have rebounded quite nicely and are playing their best football in a few seasons. With just two games remaining, Arizona is 8-5 and has a legitimate chance to clinch its first playoff berth in four years.

It is not just his philosophy that has turned the Cards around, but also the way Arians is able to get the most out of his players.

With Arians at the helm, veteran QB Carson Palmer has experienced a bit of a renaissance during his first season in the desert. He currently has 3,689 yards passing with 21 touchdowns and has completed 64.5 percent of his throws, his best mark since 2007.

Rookie RB Andre Ellington out of Clemson has added a dimension to the offense that the Cardinals have not had for a while. Ellington has 558 rushing yards with three scores and boasts an impressive 5.9 yards per carry.

WR Michael Floyd has also come on strong this year, recording 58 catches for 919 yards and has found the end zone six times. The second-year wideout is Arizona’s leading receiver, and along with Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald, forms one of the more formidable duos in the NFL.

Despite the spectacular job Arians has done building the Cardinals into a contender once again, there is still a chance the team could miss the playoffs this year.

In order to make the tournament that eludes most teams on an annual basis, Arizona must win out and the Panthers have to lose one of their final two. If the Cards falter and drop one of their last two matchups, Carolina would have to lose both of their remaining games.

Whether or not the stars align for the Cardinals this year, Arians does have his team headed in the right direction. Arizona is poised to be in the thick of things for seasons to come.

Who knows, maybe another improbable run is in the cards. 

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