EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals were flying high earlier this season, a surprising 4-0 and one of the league’s few unbeaten teams.
Two months and a seven-game skid later, they’re still looking for that elusive fifth victory.
“I think after starting the way we did, expectations were raised, so it always makes it difficult when you’ve had a stretch like we’ve had,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “Our players have continued to work hard, but it’s not easy. This is a difficult business and when you don’t win games, it is tough.”
Sure is. Just ask Jets coach Rex Ryan, who deemed his team before this season possibly the most talented group he has been around since coming to New York. Instead, the Jets have been a huge disappointment, magnified by a thoroughly embarrassing 49-19 thrashing at the hands of the rival New England Patriots on Thanksgiving night.
The Cardinals (4-7) and Jets (4-7) meet at MetLife Stadium on Sunday with both teams hoping to save their sinking seasons.
“We feel we’re a better football team than our record indicates, and I’m sure they do as well,” said Ryan, whose Jets have lost four of their last five. “They should feel that way. Both teams are hungry for a win, and I think there probably are some similarities there.”
More than a few, actually.
Arizona’s offense is ranked second-to-last, while New York’s is just three spots better. Both teams’ defenses are normally expected to be aggressive, in-your-face units, but neither has established itself as more than mediocre, at best.
“We’re playing a team that is a lot like us,” Whisenhunt said. “They’ve had moments where they’ve looked very good and other moments where they haven’t.”
They both also have very unsettled quarterback situations.
While the Jets insist Mark Sanchez is their guy now — and not Tim Tebow — questions remain as to whether he will ever be more than he is now. And for many fans and media, that hasn’t been nearly enough. While he helped the Jets to consecutive AFC title games in his first two seasons, Sanchez has not taken the leap to become a franchise-type quarterback.
“It’s an everyday thing,” Sanchez said of the responsibility he takes during the last five games of the regular season. “I don’t think it changes just because we need to win a couple of games here in a short period of time. It’s just the nature of the position. The most important thing in these next five games, as important as they are, is don’t change and try to do something crazy and make something up and try to be somebody you’re not.
“Just keep leading this team and do the very best I can.”
Sanchez tried to make something happen last Thursday against the Patriots, when he took off running with the football in New England’s 35-point second quarter. It was a broken play, and he ended up into right guard Brandon Moore’s backside, fumbled and Steve Gregory picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.
“It’s the way it goes and will probably be on a blooper reel for a while,” Sanchez said. “That’s just part of playing.”
Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley also had a rough game in his first NFL start a week ago. Filling in for the injured Kevin Kolb, he threw four interceptions in a 31-17 loss to St. Louis and had two of them returned for touchdowns by Janoris Jenkins.
Lindley will get the start Sunday against the Jets as Kolb continues to recover from a rib injury that has sidelined him for five games.
“Kevin talked to me after we watched the film and said, ‘You know, you played a pretty dang good game besides those six or so plays, besides those four interceptions,'” Lindley said. “It was a solid start. For me, this is a results-driven game. We lost the game. I gave up 14 points myself. So it wasn’t a good game, but there were things that I can look at, move forward from, and gain confidence from to take into this week.”
It’s also an opportunity for Lindley to help the Cardinals decide whether they potentially have their quarterback of the future on the roster. John Skelton won the starting job out of training camp, but got hurt and Kolb came in and led Arizona to a 4-0 start.
Skelton got the job back when Kolb was injured, but was mostly ineffective and benched in favor of Lindley, a sixth-round draft pick in April out of San Diego State.
“This is a tough defense,” Whisenhunt said of the Jets. “They do a lot of different things. They try to confuse you. So, (Lindley’s) going to have to put in a lot of work studying this week, and he just has to make smart decisions.”
This is the teams’ first meeting since 2008, when the Brett Favre-led Jets raced out to a huge early lead at home and beat the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals 56-35. It helped jumpstart New York to an 8-3 start, but that was all derailed when Favre injured his shoulder and slumped as the Jets lost four of their last five to finish out of the playoffs and cost then-coach Eric Mangini his job.
The Cardinals also finished 9-7, but sneaked into the postseason as NFC West champions and made it all the way to the Super Bowl. They nearly won it, too, if not for a late touchdown catch by Pittsburgh’s Santonio Holmes — who’s now with the Jets.
Jay Feely was the Jets’ kicker that year, and signed with the Cardinals before the 2010 season. He has been on both sides, and sees the similarities in the teams’ struggles.
“Losing Kevin hurt a lot for us because he was coming into his own, started to play well and got hurt in that fifth game,” he said. “I think that was a big blow for our team. For the Jets, I think when you miss the opportunity to make a couple plays in games, and this holds true for everybody, but it has held true for them this season, and you lose those games, then the pressure begins to build.
“When you don’t respond to that the right way and you don’t win games, obviously that can build upon itself, especially in New York.”
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