Hawks look to set tone

Ending with win could help next year

The last time the Arizona Cardinals went into a game against the Seattle Seahawks, they were trying to put the final nail into the coffin of the NFC West’s defending champions.

Mission accomplished, and now the West’s new champions are simply looking at the Seahawks as a tuneup.

The Cardinals (8-7) will host a playoff game next weekend, drawing the NFC wild-card team with the better record – regardless of what happens today. Beating the Seahawks (4-11) won’t change Arizona’s postseason draw, but it certainly would help the Cardinals’ psyche.

Two consecutive losses by a combined 61 points have the Cardinals feeling like … well, the Cardinals.

“I think once we clinched all the other teams turned their games up and played us even harder,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said last week during a conference call with the Seattle media. “We have been losing games, and we can’t sit back and make excuses. We have to start making things happen.”

The Cardinals’ freefall – they have lost four of their past five games since starting the season 7-3 – has been hard to watch even up in Seattle. The four-time defending NFC West champs have watched Arizona fade while swimming in the river of woulda-coulda-shoulda.

“My regret is: opportunity lost,” said Mike Holmgren, who will coach his final game with the Seahawks this afternoon. “You think about what maybe we could’ve done this season. But the fact is, we didn’t.”

The Seahawks got off to one of the worst starts in franchise history by winning just two of their first 13 games. But the Seahawks have put together back-to-back victories and have been within a touchdown in four of their past five losses.

This season is beginning to look like 2002, when Seattle started 4-9 but rallied for three consecutive victories down the stretch. Several Seahawks players and coaches have said the final three weeks of the 2002 season helped set the tone for what would become a five-year playoff run, so the conventional wisdom inside the locker room is that another three-game winning streak might do the same.

“We’ve got a lot of superstars on this team and some tremendous talent,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson, who missed most of 2008 with a knee injury but expects to be back for 2009. “If we can put the pieces of the puzzle together, and everybody invests in this thing together 100 percent, we could be one of the best teams in the league.”

The Cardinals are on the other end of the momentum swing, having gone from legitimate NFC contenders to the role of best-of-the-worst in the conference’s least-competitive division. Arizona is 5-0 against NFC West teams but 3-7 against everyone else.

For the Seahawks, who have an outgoing coach and no chance of the postseason, making a statement is all they’ve got left.

“I think we can send a message,” Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram said of facing the NFC West’s new champions. “Obviously, they won it this year, and they deserve it.

“But the way I look at it, we weren’t ourselves this year. So in my mind, I’m saying that they won it this year. Our mentality has to be that this is our division.”

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