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The Arizona Cardinals had a better division record last season than the NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks, however, won their third consecutive division title while the Cardinals suffered their 31st straight season without one.
The Seahawks continue their latest title defense when they open divisional play against the Cardinals in Arizona on Sunday.
Seattle lost its last three division games last year to finish a mediocre 3-3 within the NFC West. The Seahawks, though, were buoyed by a 6-4 record outside the division as they captured their third straight West crown and their fourth playoff appearance in five seasons since moving to the NFC.
Arizona went 4-2 within the division, but was just 1-9 outside it to extend the franchise’s misery. The Cardinals haven’t finished in first place since winning the NFC East in 1975.
The Seahawks and Cardinals split two games last season with the home team winning each time. The all-time series is tied at eight wins apiece, but Seattle has won seven of the last nine meetings.
Seattle (1-0) is hoping to build on an impressive defensive effort in its season opener against Tampa Bay last Sunday. The physical Seahawks held the Buccaneers scoreless over the last three quarters en route to a 20-6 victory.
“You don’t want to see anyone get hurt seriously,” said Seattle linebacker Julian Peterson, who had two sacks, seven total tackles and a forced fumble. “But this Seattle defense is different. We’re coming to hit. We’re coming to hurt. We want to get that reputation around the rest of the league, because that will help our offense.”
The offense was bolstered by Shaun Alexander’s 105 rushing yards. The Seahawks improved to 30-6 when the 2005 NFL MVP reaches the 100-yard mark, including 15-1 since December 2004. They’re 4-0 when he does it versus the Cardinals, against whom Alexander has 962 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns - his most against any team - in 10 games.
Alexander suffered a sprained left wrist Sunday and was wearing a soft, padded cast during practice this week, but coach Mike Holmgren said “they are going to rig something up during the game to allow him to play” against the Cardinals.
Arizona (0-1) didn’t open its division schedule strongly last Sunday, losing 20-17 at San Francisco while compiling only 100 passing yards - third-fewest in the NFL in Week 1 and the fewest by the Cardinals in any game since they had 74 against the New York Giants on Nov. 14, 2004.
After completing 61.8 percent of his passes and averaging 238.7 yards per game in his last six contests of 2006, quarterback Matt Leinart went just 14-for-28 with one touchdown and two interceptions Sunday.
“I’m very disappointed in myself, the way I played as the leader of this football team,” Leinart said. “It starts with me getting the ball to the right guy and making the plays. I didn’t do that. That falls on me. We’re not going to win football games if I play like that at quarterback.”
The Cardinals were hanging around with solid defense until giving up an 86-yard scoring drive capped by a 1-yard Arnaz Battle touchdown run with 22 seconds remaining to lose coach Ken Whisenhunt’s NFL head coaching debut.
“Those are the things that we’ve got to learn from, and we’ve got to get better,” Whisenhunt said Tuesday. “We had a chance to finish the game and win a game - a game that we didn’t play our best offensively - and learn from it, and we didn’t get it done.”
“We’ve got to move on,” he said. “It’s one game. There are 15 other teams that are in the same situation as us.”
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who had 83 catches for 1,203 yards last season, was held to four receptions for 22 yards on Sunday. Boldin, though, could benefit from a return to University of Phoenix Stadium, where he has 100 catches for 1,352 yards in 15 games over the last two seasons.
One of Seattle’s primary wide receivers, meanwhile, won’t be available. D.J. Hackett, who totaled a career-high 104 yards on four catches with a touchdown in the teams’ last meeting, is out indefinitely after suffering an ankle injury in the season opener.
“He’s going to be down for a while. I can’t tell you for how long. Those things are very unpredictable,” Holmgren said Monday.
The Seahawks are looking for their fourth 2-0 start in five years, while the Cardinals are hoping to avoid opening 0-2 for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Arizona won its season opener last season before dropping its next eight games.