About this time last season, the Seahawks were enjoying the feeling the Arizona Cardinals are now carrying around.
It all starts with talent, of course, but then a big win or two takes it to another dimension.
Pretty soon confidence and momentum collide to generate a kind of magic dust that causes footballs to bounce in your direction, and all the big plays go your way.
And when you truly believe you’re hard to beat, you are.
With the best record in the NFL, the 9-1 Cardinals have a three-game lead in the NFC West, and travel to Seattle this weekend to take on the defending Super Bowl champs, scrapping to sustain their postseason hopes at 6-4.
The Cardinals have done it despite losing key defenders to injury, and now have backup quarterback Drew Stanton stepping in for injured starter Carson Palmer.
Stanton took them to a win last week over Detroit with two touchdown passes and 306 passing yards.
The quality of play by Stanton and other backups “speaks volumes about the type of guys that are answering the bell once they get the chance,” Stanton said. “It’s not just one or two guys — that would be coincidental. This is something that has become a culture around here and hopefully it can be that way for a while.”
Few understand the cruel whims of football fortune better than Stanton and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians.
Stanton was a second-round draft pick by Detroit in 2007, and his playing time with the Lions and Colts and now Cardinals were successively limited by his team’s adding a first overall pick: Matthew Stafford (2009 draft), Andrew Luck (2012), and Palmer (2003, picked up by Arizona last season from Oakland).
“Once you get your opportunity, you want to try to make the most of it; I waited a long time, four years, in between starts,” Stanton said.
He knows enough, then, to appreciate the roll the Cardinals are on. “Confidence is the hardest thing to hold on to, the easiest thing to lose, and the hardest thing to get back.”
But Arians has a way of instilling it in the Cardinals. He expects aggressive play on both sides of the ball, with blitzing on defense and deep passes on offense.
Stanton has nothing on Arians when it comes to forestalled opportunity. Arians has been at it so long that he coached running backs on Bear Bryant’s staff at Alabama (1981-82).
He was in his sixth stay with an NFL team when he finally got a chance to run the show, stepping in as interim coach for ailing Colts coach Chuck Pagano in 2012, and was named The Associated Press Coach of the Year for his efforts.
Arians has led the Cardinals to 16 wins in their past 19 games, with a huge confidence-builder that came in Seattle in the form of a 17-10 win over the Seahawks on Dec. 22.
“It was very critical; I can’t deny that,” Arians said of that win. “To win that one, especially because we had four turnovers and we didn’t really play great, but we played hard and hung in there … that’s been the building block that we’ve used since.”
And upon that building block, Arians has constructed a level of expectations.
“You have to win a game or two at the end to start knowing you can … and it’s carried into this year,” Arians said.
Stanton knows a great deal about being a back-up in the NFL, and he appreciates the way Arians has shown confidence in those who have had to step up and keep the Arizona momentum intact.
“I think it’s also a sense when you walk in this locker room, when you walk in the team meeting rooms — there’s a standard that’s been set,” Stanton said. “You’re obligated to uphold that standard or else they’re going to try to find some way to replace you. As many of us know, this is a business, and if you’re not doing your job, they are going to try and find somebody who can.”