At 4-5, the Arizona Cardinals have managed to exceed, fall below and yet meet expectations for their 2012 season. When the season started, most figured the team was probably somewhere between a seven and a nine-win team. I thought that the team had a potential as low as five wins and as good as 10 or maybe 11 wins if all went their way.
A 4-0 start exceeded all expectations. There was talk about whether they were among the league's elite. Then they lost five in a row, which has been quite disappointing. However, at 4-5 and probably 4-6 after this week when they travel to Atlanta to face the Falcons, it isn't far off what most believed they would be.
I personally projected them prior to the season to be 5-5 after this week. And even then, I felt that it would take a Week 17 loss to the 49ers to keep them from a division crown.
The key is how the team now responds.
The defense was rock solid at the start of the year and has been, overall, tremendously good. However, they have given up some big plays. The offense has gone from opportunistic and shaky to downright abysmal.
The one trait, though, that we all thought the team had was mental toughness. After winning 11 of 13 games and winning so many of them in dramatic fashion at the ends of game or in overtime, we knew that the team would fight.
That has not shown up the past couple of games.
Now they come out of the bye with a chance to prove its mettle. Is it the team that started 4-0 and ended the 2011 season 7-2? Is it is as bad as the five straight losses? Or is it somewhere in between?
With Alex Smith concussed and not knowing how long it could take to see him return, the division is not our of reach. It may look that way now, but it won't take much to get Arizona back on the winning side of things.
Last season they turned things around. This season they have a chance.
Are they who were thought they were? Are they what we thought after that? Or are they what we think they are now?
We will find out starting this week.
They need to win, but a loss won't ruin the rest of the season. How they play, though, will set the tone.
Ken Whisenhunt pulled his team up last season. Can he do it again, even with all the injuries? If he does, it will be time to put him among the league's best coaches, even more so than he already is considered.