TEMPE, Ariz. – Sometimes all a team needs is a little reassurance.
Players don’t need fans to fawn over them or to put them on a pedestal. A simple endorsement from their coach can do wonders.
Just ask the Arizona Cardinals.
A day after their Week 1 loss to the St. Louis Rams, Arizona coach Bruce Arians gathered his team for a meeting and told his players they didn’t realize how good they were.
It was what the Cardinals needed to hear, especially the younger ones.
“It gives you a lot of hope in what we can do, especially after everything we went through last year, having hard games and stuff,” second-year defensive back Justin Bethel said. “Even for me, just watching how the offense was moving up and down the field, scoring and keeping drives sustained, even though it was a loss it gave me comfort knowing that if we fix up a couple things, we can play with people.
“We can win these games, and if we just keep doing what we’re doing and if we can keep getting better, we can be a playoff-caliber team.”
Arians inherited a squad that went experienced losing streaks of seven, six and nine games, respectively, during the previous three seasons, and he was concerned with their mental state.
Another loss, their 12th in the last 13 games, didn’t help Arians’ anxiety. Taking an 11-point lead against the Rams, who posted the most division wins last season in the NFC West, however, showed Arians and his charges that they can hold their own in the NFL’s toughest division.
“When you take last year into consideration, and all the new faces -- coaches, players -- it’s hard to figure it out until you play a game for 60 minutes, not just 20 or 30,” Arians said. “There were flashes in the preseason -- ‘Hey, hey, we might be all right' -- but when you play the Rams like we played them and you have an 11-point lead and you have a chance to win the ballgame like that, sometimes you don’t know until the wrong thing happens.
“I think now we know we can be really good.”
The veterans understand what’s in the locker room and that one game won’t define a season. Arians’ message was geared toward the 27 returning players from last year’s club and the rookies who lost their first NFL game.
He wanted to let them know that losing wasn’t acceptable, veteran quarterback Carson Palmer said, because this year’s edition is good enough to win.
“I think his point was well-received,” Palmer said. “I think the young guys that needed to hear it heard it and it hit home.”
To rookie Tyrann Mathieu, hearing Arians’ confirmation makes the defensive back believe this year’s team has a high ceiling.
Bethel said everyone in the locker room believed Arians. But that’s how it’s supposed to be, he quickly added. If they don’t believe in themselves, who will?
That meeting could be a turning point for this year’s Cardinals. Only time will tell if the players believe what their coach believes.
“I think everyone embraced it,” rookie tight end D.C. Jefferson, “and actually sat back and thought about it like, 'You know, we really can do something with what we have.'”