The Cardinals Play Beat The Clock

I’ll just bet you’re one of those Arizona Cardinal fans that likes to look ahead and chart out how the rest of the season will go.

Let’s see, how many games can they win the rest of the season?

Before you start Looking at stats and trends, there’s one simple formula that, according to a lot of people in Phoenix sports media, will tell you whether the Cardinals win or lose.

What time is kickoff?

To a lot of reporters and talk show hosts, the Cardinals are doomed this week at Carolina because kickoff is at 10:00 a.m. Arizona time and the Cardinals are apparently the only West Coast (or thereabouts) team in the NFL that can’t POSSIBLY win a game in the Eastern Time Zone unless it’s a late game.

Wait, I just crunched all those stats, looked at all that game film, and all I had to do was check what time the game started?

Never mind David Johnson’s ability to run on Ron Rivera’s defense, or how the Cardinals will contain Cam Newton. The game starts at 10:00. They’ve got no shot.

At least that’s all you’ve heard for the last nine years. Going back to the Super Bowl year of 2008, the Cardinals lose their ability to play winning football as soon as their charter airplane crosses the Mississippi.

What’s often overlooked, even earlier this year when the Cardinals lost at Buffalo, is the fact that maybe, just maybe, the team they were playing was better that day.

In 2008, the Cardinals played a Week 16 game at New England, and were trounced 47-7. Six weeks later, they were playing for the Lombardi Trophy. It had to be the early kickoff that day, right?

Not really.

With Matt Cassel at quarterback (Tom Brady was out for the year with an injury), and Randy Moss as one of his receivers, maybe the outcome had more to do with talent than it did wake up time.

Yes, east coast road trips are challenging, but this is the big leagues. Teams don’t fly commercial. They get to dictate what day and what time they leave and their hotels aren’t exactly La Quinta. Michael Bidwill demonstrated a long time ago he’ll spend the money necessary to make his team a winner, so if he has to foot the bill for an extra night in a hotel so his team can adjust their body clocks, no big deal.

For the record, just last week the Oakland Raiders went to Jacksonville and won. Earlier this year, the Seattle Seahawks went to New Jersey and beat the Jets. That’s Seattle, where coming to play division-rival Arizona means a three-hour flight.

The most interesting part of this issue is while lots of scribes and fans point to early start times as a culprit for the Cardinals’ woes, there’s one group of people who never say a word about it.

The Cardinals themselves.

Look it up – Bidwill, Bruce Arians, Steve Keim, Cardinal players – not one person in that group has ever used a 10:00 kickoff as an excuse. Truth be told, Arians wouldn’t allow it to be an excuse if the game kicked off at midnight.

If start times were such a factor in determining a team’s fate, then why didn’t the Rams complain about last week’s game in London, which started at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time? Better yet, why didn’t Bill Belechick complain about an 8:30 p.m. Eastern time kickoff at Arizona in Week One?

When Paul Westphal coached the Phoenix Suns, reporters would constantly try to get him to say something print-worthy about a daunting seven game road trip to the East, or the fact his club didn’t get a lot of home games down the stretch of the season.

His response was always the same: “At the end of the season, you get 41 games at home and 41 on the road”.

If the media in town keeps reminding Cardinal players that 10:00 a.m. means victory is impossible, here’s the scary part – they may start to believe it.

Professional athletes are just that. They play when they’re told to play. And after three hours of getting suited up, taped and loosening up on the field, if they’re not awake by 10:00 a.m., then someone should tell them to stop drinking decaf.

When you play is not as important as HOW you play, and sorry, teams are not nearly as hampered by East Coast travel as some would like you to believe.