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No rest for the weary: Battered Cards defense bracing for Saints


PHOENIX -- Thirty minutes after an epic 51-45 overtime defeat of the Packers in an NFC playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson sat at his locker and stared blankly at the carpet. He had taken off his shoulder pads, jersey and undershirt, but not the shell-shocked expression that comes after surrendering 35 points and 304 yards passing ... in the second half.

With only a glance at the visitor in front of him, Wilson leaned back and began unwrapping the sweat-stained tape from around his right wrist. He said nothing. Eventually he sighed and grumbled, almost sheepishly: "What do you want me to say?"

There really were no family-friendly words for the Cardinals' worst showing of the season. Green Bay not only scored on seven consecutive possessions while erasing a 31-10 deficit, but also quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had only six yards passing in the first quarter, threw for 416 yards thereafter. His four touchdown passes in the second half matched what Arizona had allowed in its previous four games combined.

"Haven't recovered yet," Wilson said Tuesday night by text, "but we'll be ready."

The Cardinals will need to be on point because Saturday in New Orleans they'll face an offense and a quarterback every bit as lethal as the Packers and Rodgers. The Saints ranked No. 1 in scoring and Drew Brees threw for a league-high 34 touchdown passes, although he had only one in each of his final two starts.

The Saints' stable of receivers is deep and athletic: wideouts Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem have at least 722 yards receiving each; tight end Jeremy Shockey has 569; and running backs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas have 86 catches combined. New Orleans' running game also has to be respected after ranking sixth in the league with an average of 131.6 yards a game.

"There's a lot to prepare for," Wilson says.

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New Orleans' offense sputtered in its final three games, all losses after a 13-0 start. The Saints scored 17 against Cowboys, 17 against the Bucs and 10 against the Panthers (Brees and other key starters sat out the final game). Those were the only games this season that New Orleans failed to score at least 24 points.

Just as the Saints are coming off their worst performance of the season, so too is the Arizona defense. The Cardinals contend that some of their second half failures against the Packers were busted coverages, miscommunication and poor technique. On the first play of overtime, Packers wideout Greg Jennings slipped behind safety Antrel Rolle on a deep post because of a mixup in coverage. Had the ball not been overthrown, the Cardinals would be working on their golf games this week instead of their game plan.

"We made a lot of mistakes," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett says. "Two of those touchdowns that we allowed, we didn't hear the adjustments. But we've got to understand that it was a wake-up call. Going into this next game, we've got to be on point when it comes to communication."

The Cardinals dominated defensively in the first quarter, forcing turnovers on their first two series and limiting Rodgers to those six yards passing. At halftime the Packers had only 136 yards of total offense and 10 points. But Arizona couldn't get off the field in the second half.

Green Bay converted on three third-and-longs on its opening possession of the second half en route to a touchdown. When the Packers recovered the ensuing onside kick, the change in momentum was almost tangible. "It was like whoosh," Dockett said. "They were on fire."

The only positive the Cardinals took from the game is that they had the resiliency to make a play. Most everyone assumed that when the Packers won the coin toss to start overtime, the game was theirs. Even Arizona's Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie rolled his eyes and thought to himself: "Oh, Lord. Here we go again."

But on third-and-6 from the Arizona 24, linebacker Karlos Dansby and nickelback Michael Adams came on a blitz on the right side of the line. Dansby did so on the interior, where he initially leapt with arms extended to keep Rodgers from having a clear passing lane. The extra half second that Rodgers held the ball permitted Adams, who had been victimized by Rodgers and penalties throughout, to come free around the corner and strip the ball from Rodgers while sacking him. Dansby grabbed it out of the air and returned it 17 yards for the winning score.

"We could have easily put our heads down and pouted and thought about what wasn't going right for us," says cornerback Bryant McFadden. "But one of the things I love around here is that everyone encourages one another. That's critical because at some point in your career you're going to be in a situation where it seems like nothing is going right. The sun isn't always going to shine on you. But we kept fighting to the end. Now it's on to the next one."