The Arizona Cardinals have climbed out of the deep hole they dug to start the season and are on a legitimate roll. After winning their first game (barely), the team went on to lose five-straight and quickly found themselves all but written off by most observers.
They struggled in all facets of the game and couldn't close out opportunities both on the road and at home. Since then, they've won five of six including wins over quality teams in the Dallas Cowboy and San Francisco 49ers.
The Cardinals now find themselves at 6-7 and somehow, still in the hunt for a Wildcard playoff berth. That turnaround might comes as a surprise to some, but inside the locker room, the belief was always there.
"We knew the whole time we weren't a 1-6 football team. That's what our record was and what everyone perceived us as, but we know in the locker room that we were much better than what our record showed," star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said after the game.
This game was a microcosm for the Cardinals season. It was an improbable come from behind win with a back up quarterback who's struggled recently and turned the ball over three times against one of the best football teams in the league.
This win didn't just happen and it wasn't the result of a trick play, a bad call, or some other random act of sporting luck.
The Cardinals won this game in the second half when the offense dominated the time of position and field position battle. The Cardinals defense won this game in the first half when they held the 49ers to zero touchdowns despite four trips deep inside the scoring zone.
In other words, the Cardinals won this game because they always believed they would win this game and they never wavered.
Team leader Darnell Dockett described that belief: "There wasn't any bickering or yelling, we just said we were going to win the game in the fourth quarter...We knew it was going to come down to the fourth quarter. We did that. I'm proud of us. I'm proud of our team that stuck together and not complaining about anything."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt also remarked about the team's belief.
"We're resilient today and that's what it was all about. We fought field position but we didn't get down. We started the second half with a bug thud, but our guys, they believe in what we are doing and that's big. It was a team win for us," Whisenhunt said about Sunday's contest before later talking about the bigger picture of the season that's turned around.
"You guys stuck a fork in us quite awhile ago, you know, and I think our guys never let it get to them. How many times did we say during those first weeks that we're going to stay the course and it was going to turn for us. We believed it, we believed in what we're doing and we still do and we're just seeing the benefit of that."
Where does that belief come from?
According to ILB Daryl Washington, "It comes from the leaders but also the whole team."
In training camp we heard this talk about what a great group of players this was and how good the chemistry would be. That was tested with a lot of adversity and this team passed.
Regardless of how the season ends, there's no way not to be optimistic about the future with a full offseason and the experience from this year with Ray Horton's defensive system.
The offense still lags behind and the unfortunate early head injury to Kevin Kolb robbed us of an important opportunity to see how he handled a test like this. The defense, however, is very much a bright spot for the first time in the Whisenhunt era.
According to DE Calais Campbell (who had another big game), if it hadn't been for the lockout the Cardinals would be 11-1 right now. That might be a stretch, but there's little doubt that this team's early season challenges were not a matter of personnel or bad coaching.
As Whisenhunt said, the team stayed the course and the team is now seeing the rewards of that faith.