By Dan Zeiger, Tribune
The Cardinals were hoping to make noise in their home opener a year ago. They did, but in the worst way possible.
The noise came from behind the closed doors of the Arizona locker room: running back Emmitt Smithís five-minute, profanity-laced tirade following an embarrassing 38-0 defeat against the Seattle Seahawks.
On Sunday, the Cardinals play their home opener against the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, winners of 16 straight games. For Arizona, it is an opportunity to make a statement and ó although the players are not talking about it ó atone for last yearís miserable effort against Seattle.
"This is a totally different team," defensive tackle Russell Davis
said. "Last year was last year. But we canít go out there not ready to play. . . .
"Itís more pressure because you have to prepare for a team that can do so much. It will be a difficult game. Guys will be ready to play regardless, but thereís the added incentive of playing the Super Bowl champions."
A crowd in excess of 50,000 is expected at Sun Devil Stadium. The No. 40 jersey of Pat Tillman, a former Cardinals safety who died in combat in Afghanistan in April, will be retired in a halftime ceremony, providing the team with even more emotion and motivation.
"Hopefully, people who just like watching good football will come out," said Dennis Green, who will coach Arizona in a regular-season home game for the first time.
"New England fans will be there, longtime fans of the Cardinals will be there, and people intrigued by the new things weíre doing here will come out. That combination should give us a big, excited crowd."
A chance for Arizona to win over any "undecided voters" with a win or solid effort, perhaps?
"Letís not bring any politics into this," Green said, chuckling.
Defensive end Bertrand Berry indicated that making a statement to fans is important ó but not as important as making one to the rest of the NFL.
"This is a team that has done a lot of things the last few years," Berry said. "This is our chance to establish ourselves, and if you want to be one of the best, you have to beat the best.
"Itís up to us to go out and play at a high level every week, but especially when you play a team with high notoriety."
Quarterback Josh McCown said that during film study of the Patriots the Cardinals have gotten an up-close look at the level of play necessary to be a Super Bowl champion.
That is a height the Cardinals aspire to ascend to, although Green is 3-0 lifetime coaching against Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"What you see from them is consistency," McCown said. "You see them play at a high level every time they are on the field. Thatís what you have to have to win as many games as they have.
"We canít get focused on the fact that they have won so many games and let that get us down," McCown said. "Itís a game that we have a chance to be the team that knocks them off."
EXTRA POINT: Linebacker Raynoch Thompson
(knee) was the only player to sit out the walkthrough Friday, and he will not play Sunday.