BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – The feeling Patrick Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals had coming off the Bank of America Stadium field last January is a feeling they never want to experience ever again.
They had just lost, 27-16, to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Wild Card Game, and all they could muster offensively was a playoff-record low 78 yards.
Peterson learned a lot that day in his first playoff game. It didn’t go the way he, or anyone else in the organization wanted it to go, but they’re much better because of it, and it’s got them ready for another playoff test on Saturday with the Green Bay Packers, who they’ll host in the NFC Divisional Game.
“First of all, it’s definitely a different speed and different atmosphere,” Peterson said. “In the playoffs, your whole mindset is I can’t make a mistake, because that mistake might cost my team. I want to make sure; in the playoffs, it’s all about extra studying, knowing what your opponent is going to do at all times, understanding the gravity of each play and each second that’s left on the clock. Game plans are different. The way coaches think going into the game is going to be different.”
“It’s an exciting moment, to be in the Divisional round, in our backyard – the furthest I’ve gone in the playoffs, so I’m very excited. I just can’t wait to hit the field, and to hear the National Anthem, and Cat Man (Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro) or their kicker (Mason Crosby) kicks the ball off and the cameras are flashing, the towels are rolling, there’s no better atmosphere than that.”
Who can forget the 38-8 pounding that the Cardinals inflicted on the Packers three weeks ago at University of Phoenix Stadium? It’s hard not to, but the team has. In talking to each and every player and coach, that game is erased from their memory, and their onto creating a new game plan and new memories this week and on Saturday.
Peterson sees a completely different Packers team now than the one that flew out of Sky Harbor Airport on the losing end a few weeks back (a 35-18 win over the Washington Redskins last Sunday tends to make the winning team look a changed unit).
“I think the biggest difference is that they’ll (Packers) play with, I guess, a better sense of urgency,” Peterson said. “Guys are still going to run the same plays. They might have a couple wrinkles here and there, but for the most part, I think these guys definitely want to come back here and get that bad taste out of their mouth. So I think it will definitely be a much better game than it was the first go-around.”
Even though the Cardinals play the Seahawks, 49ers and Rams twice a season, and they’re used to that, it’s a different situation when you play a team you just destroyed two days after Christmas, then have to turn right back around and play that same team again in the playoffs, where every little mistake is magnified 1000%.
“It’s very tough, not only playing a team twice; it’s very tough beating a team twice,” Peterson said. “(Cardinals Head) Coach (Bruce Arians) has been doing a great job all week of making sure that we’re prepared, well-rested, and focused at the same time, because at the end of the day, we know we’re going to get a different attitude from this Green Bay Packer team than the previous time we played them. We know we’re going to get all type of gimmick plays, a lot of fourth down conversions that these guys want to try to go for, maybe a lot of fake punts out there, because at the end of the day, we’ve got to lay it all on the line because the next game is not promised.”
After two abysmal games (Cardinals loss and Minnesota Vikings loss) to end the regular season, it seems like Aaron Rodgers and his offense has their groove back. They battered Washington to the tune of 141 yards rushing, 354 total yards and the 35 points.
Rodgers usually keeps his offense moving at a speedy clip during games, but Peterson watched the game film from the Redskins game, and he saw them kick it a few more notches faster. That’s going to be tough to stop if they come out with that same approach on Saturday.
“They did, and they went even faster; the fastest I’ve seen them all year,” Peterson said. “But, when you’re playing an aggressive defense, as we are, you want to try to make sure you keep that one package on the field. You want to make sure that you get these guys; try to get our eyes in different spots, try to get our heads spinning, just try to get us off rhythm and not let the defense be on the same page. It’s going to be loud. Communication is a must, so the offense feels if they move fast and everybody is not on the same page, there’s a good opportunity that we can get a play.”
Peterson will get his first taste of home playoff football on Saturday, and the experience will be something he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Some players and coaches say the pressure is lessened quite a bit when you’re on the road in the second season, because everything is through the roof when playing at home in the tournament.
So what? This is what Peterson, his teammates and his coaches have been grinding for ever since the strength and conditioning program kicked off in the spring. They live for moments like this.
“The playoff atmosphere versus the regular season game is just the attention to detail; just the attitude, the energy. Just everything is different,” Peterson said. “Guys know that this game means more to them than anything in the world right now, because their team, just like we are, we’re all in it for the same goal. We want to hoist that (Lombardi) trophy at the end of the year.”
“Guys just know they have to bring it every play,” Peterson said. “Guys know as a defense, we’ve got to hunt as a pack to the ball at all times. You never know. The Pittsburgh Steelers stripping the ball (against the Cincinnati Bengals last Saturday night), he (Jeremy Hill) could’ve scored with that. We want to make sure that we’re doing all the things to our maximum effort, because we never know what a couple plays is going to cost us, so that’s why we want to make sure that we don’t take any plays off. Go 110 percent, hunt in packs, and we’ll see, at the end of the day, at the fourth quarter when the clock says 0:00, hopefully we’re on top and moving to the next round.”