COMMENTARY | Flash back to the 2013 preseason and you'll see most of the football world predicting another poor season for the Arizona Cardinals. Even the most ardent fan of Big Red couldn't have thought they'd win more than eight games -- much less 10.
What were the defining moments of the 2013 season for the Cardinals? Let's take a look back:
No. 1: Not This Again (Week 3 Loss at New Orleans)
The Cardinals dropped a close game on the road in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams before coming back home for a win over the Detroit Lions. They weren't impressive in either game leading into Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints. The wheels came off, as the Cardinals gained just 247 yards while allowing 423. They turned the ball over twice and got torched by Jimmy Graham. It looked like this was going to be yet another rough season.
No. 2: Bounce Back (Week 5 Win vs. Carolina)
At the time, the Cardinals still looked like a good defensive team with a shoddy offense. They won late on the road at Tampa Bay, before coming home to face the (then) struggling Carolina Panthers. The Cardinals' defense was all over Cam Newton and company, winning 22-6 despite gaining just 250 yards on offense. Turnovers were still an issue, with Palmer throwing three picks. Luckily, the Cardinals' defense picked off Newton three times and recovered a fumble.
No. 3: They Are Who We Thought They Were (Two Division Losses In Five Days)
We talk about measuring sticks all the time and the Cardinals faced their first real test with a road game against the 49ers, followed by a Thursday night game at home against the Seattle Seahawks. After playing the 49ers tough for three quarters, the Cardinals fell apart (four turnovers) and lost 32-20.
Thursday against the Seahawks was much worse and even though the score was a respectable 34-22 loss, it was a beatdown of epic proportions. It was also the worst offensive showing all season (234 total yards, 30 rushing).
No. 4: The One That Really Hurt (Week 13 Loss vs. Philadelphia)
This was one of those rare times where everyone in the world knew how bad the loss would hurt. The Cardinals lost 24-21 and even though they had four more games remaining, it just felt like the loss would knock the Cardinals out of the playoffs. Turnovers were a killer again, with three of them for the Cardinals and none for the Eagles. A phantom defensive holding penalty late in the game sealed the Cardinals' fate as it turns out.
No. 5: We're Not Dead Yet (Week 16 Win at Seattle)
Nobody expected the Cardinals to come out and hold the Seattle Seahawks to 10 points and 192 total yards of offense in Seattle, but it happened. The Cardinals' defense was superb, the offense was just opportunistic enough and the Bird Gang moved to 10-5 after winning 17-10. Michael Floyd made a tremendous juggling catch and referee karma made up for the Philadelphia blunder with an interception that wasn't overturned. It didn't end up mattering for this year, but it's a huge confidence boost heading into 2014.
Without question, the Cardinals' season was a success. They've got holes to fill, but if that defense plays as well as they did this year, they'll be contending for the division next season. As it stands, they finished the season as the No. 1 defense against the run and the No. 6 defense overall. Not bad for a team nobody saw coming.
You can find all of Michael Dunlap's work on the four major sports and WWE at Big4Sports.com. He is an NBA credentialed writer who is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief for the Sports Illustrated/Fansided NBA site HoopsHabit.com and the gambling site GamblersGrind.com. He also covers high school sports for The Arizona Republic.
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