GLENDALE — It’s been more than six months since the 2016 NFC Championship Game, but for the Arizona Cardinals, the pain of falling one win short of Super Bowl 50 is fueling the desire to finish the job this year.
“It was 53 players who stunk that night, and 25 coaches,” said head coach Bruce Arians.
During a 49-15 blowout loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Cardinals were outplayed in nearly every facet of the game. Arizona committed seven turnovers, including four Carson Palmer interceptions. Palmer acknowledged that the team could’ve done more last season.
“Last year wasn’t good enough,” Palmer said ahead of Friday’s first open practice in Glendale. “Guys that were here know that.”
Now, anything less than a Super Bowl ring would seem to be a disappointment for the Cardinals. With aging talent at key positions and nearly an entire roster back from last year’s squad, players around the team sense the urgency to get the job done this season.
“We got a chip on our shoulder, we definitely left some unfinished business out there in Carolina,” linebacker Kevin Minter said. “It’s our time, if we’re going to do it, this year needs to be it.”
The team opened its annual training camp Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium with 10-1 odds of taking home the title, according to Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. Only New England, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Seattle opened camp with better odds.
Players aren’t the only ones who realize that the time to win is now for the Cardinals. Fans piled into training camp Friday knowing that the only goal left is to be NFL champions.
“Super Bowl or bust, that’s it, anything less than that would be a killer,” said Cardinals fan Chris Lauder, who made the trip out to Glendale to see training camp for the first time. “I think everybody knows that this is year, that it’s a do-or-die year.”
“It’s exciting, it’s fun to cheer for a team like this,” Lisa Warner said. “That’s probably why you see all these people out here.”
Last year, the team finished the regular season with a record of 13-3, and won the NFC West division crown for the first time since taking it back-to-back from 2008-2009. Arizona has improved its win total each year under Arians, going from 10 wins during his first campaign in 2012 to 13 victories last season.
The Cards return every player who gained a yard or scored a touchdown for an offensive unit that led the NFL in yards gained and finished second in points scored. Wide receiver Michael Floyd said that if the offense plays like it did last year, there should be no reason they can’t have the same success.
“When we’re all on the same page, we’re unstoppable,” Floyd said. “That’s the mindset that we have as an offense. If everything’s clicking, no one can stop us.”
Even those who weren’t part of last year’s team, like rookie cornerback Brandon Williams, a third round draft pick out of Texas A&M, have noticed this championship attitude throughout the team.
“I think just understanding and knowing how a championship team really works, you can see that here,” Williams said.
Williams isn’t the only newcomer to an already stacked Arizona roster. Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones was traded to the Cardinals in March in exchange for Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick. Jones won a Super Bowl in 2015 with the Patriots, bringing even more championship grit to the desert. The 26-year-old also fills a glaring weakness for Arizona — its pass rush. The Cardinals were tied for 20th in the league last season with 36 sacks. Jones piled up 12.5 sacks last year in New England and seems to have already fit in well with his new team.
“He came in like he was one of the guys,” Minter said. “He got this playbook down so fast, I’m surprised the Patriots let him go to be honest with you.”
It’s a bit unusual for a team to embrace high expectations so early in the year. Teams and players often try to downplay such lofty goals during training camp in order to not sound overconfident or get ahead of themselves. Instead, the Cardinals have embraced the challenge of getting to the Super Bowl. Palmer said it’s easy to be excited with the amount of talent that they have on the roster.
“Oh I love what I see out there,” Palmer said. “There’s a lot of good football players in this locker room and guys recognize it, and I think that’s really important. A lot of times you can have young guys that don’t quite realize the opportunity, but we got guys that realize we have something special going.”
Even with all the talent on the field, Arizona does have a few injury questions to answer as it begins training camp. The team started camp Friday with four players on the Physically Unable to Perform list, including safety Tyrann Mathieu, who won’t participate in camp for at least three to four weeks as he continues to recover from ACL surgery. Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, cornerback Justin Bethel and linebacker Zack Wagenmann round out the PUP list.
Despite a few injuries to start camp, no one on the Cardinals seems to have any doubt about where the team should end up this season.
“We know we’re the favorite to win the Super Bowl, it’s time for us to show it and prove it,” Minter said.