Cards feel urgency to win in NFC West

TEMPE, Ariz. – Bruce Arians laid down the law Monday morning.

The focus, the Arizona Cardinals' coach told his team, was to be solely on beating the St. Louis Rams on Sunday and finally, after a year and three months, winning an NFC West game.

“If we’re ever going to do anything, we better start winning [in] our division,” Arians said. “That’s our only focus this week. I don’t want to hear about anything else in our locker room except winning a division game, so that’s the message.”

For half the locker room, the burden of eight straight division losses is starting to mount. After beating the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 9, 2012, the Cardinals dropped their next five against West foes. They are 0-3 this season.

The Cardinals didn’t need Arians to tell them something they already knew: It’s time for a win.

“Yes,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said with a smirk, “it’s been a point of emphasis.”

But not just from Arians.

“He’s mentioned it,” Fitzgerald said. “Just amongst teammates. It’s been well over a year, and to think we’re sitting here fighting for a wild-card playoff position and we haven’t won a division game in a year and almost a half, I mean it just shows you how strong our division is. But we’re not going to be considered the stepchild any longer. We got to come out and win some of these games.”

Losing streaks happen, but none have been as grueling as the current stretch. The Cards lost seven straight West games over the 2002 and '03 seasons, six through 2010-11 and five in 2003-04, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Even the new regime is starting to see just how bad it is. First-year offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin finally realized how big a deal the losing streak was after he’d read about it every day or seen it come up on TV. It’s now a monkey the Cardinals need to get off their back, Goodwin said.

While Arizona needs a division win to stay in the hunt for a wild card, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and linebacker Daryl Washington said it’s imperative to win every game, not just against West foes.

“I think you play enough football to know you got to win in your division,” Dockett said. “I think, me personally, I feel like you have to win every damn game. It’s nothing dramatic. It’s not no pressure put on us or anything like that. It’s go out and play ball, work hard and it’ll take care of itself.”

The more Arizona thinks about it, Dockett warns, the better chance it has of losing. But Washington doesn’t want Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia to snowball into another losing streak. And like Dockett, he believes everything will take care of itself.

Even for someone who’s been on the team for all eight straight losses, Washington was a little taken aback hearing the number aloud.

“Damn,” he said.

A loss Sunday and Arizona can all but kiss their playoff hopes goodbye. But a win would keep them in a position to be in the right place at the right time. Throughout the locker room, the sense of urgency to win is growing by the day.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it higher,” Fitzgerald said. “This is a must-win game for us. It’s plain and simple: We have to win. Look at Philadelphia. They got the same record as us, Dallas has the same record as us, Carolina is obviously surging right now, playing against New Orleans twice [in the final four games]. New Orleans already beat us. Obviously, San Francisco is playing a big game this weekend.

“There’s no margin for error. It wouldn’t matter if it weren’t a division game, but that it is a division game, it even makes it that much more important.”