MIAMI (AP) _ Over the past two seasons, the Arizona Cardinals have been to both coasts and all four times zones, each time their destination bringing another defeat.
This week they flew to Miami to play a team they've never beaten, yet were optimistic the trip will end a streak of 17 consecutive road losses.
We're in the doghouse,'' defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.We've got to fight our way out.''
A doghouse might be where the game should be played, because while the Cardinals (2-5) are the NFL's worst road team, the Dolphins (1-7) have the league's worst record. Miami fullback Rob Konrad smiled when asked how he would hype such a matchup to boost attendance.
Luckily,'' Konrad said,that's not my job.''
The Dolphins have their worst midseason record since 1967 and are two defeats from their first losing season since 1988. If that's not enough evidence the once-proud franchise is headed in the wrong direction, the Dolphins' latest loss was their most lopsided yet _ 41-14 Monday night against the New York Jets.
They're clearly not ready for prime time. Will they be ready come 1 p.m. Sunday?
``There's not too much to play for except pride,'' defensive end David Bowens said.
Arizona might be more motivated simply because the non-showdown offers a chance to end the road skid.
The Cardinals' most recent away victory came Oct. 6, 2001 at Carolina. Last year they went 0-8 on the road, losing by an average margin of 18.5 points,
Then Dennis Green became coach and began to revamp the roster. He's 0-4 on the road this season, but denied there's a psychological barrier to that first win.
We've got a lot of new players here,'' Green said.They don't want anybody carrying baggage about last year, because last year has nothing to do with them.''
The Cardinals have been more competitive on the road this season. They lost at St. Louis, Atlanta and San Francisco by a total of 13 points, with the defeat against the 49ers coming in overtime. There was a regression last week, however, with a 38-14 loss at Buffalo.
Much of the Cardinals' problems on the road stem from not being very good; during the losing streak, their record at home is 7-10.
But the current stretch is a reminder of the challenge that geography presents a team from Arizona. Over a 22-day span the Cardinals cross the country three times to play games in the East.
I don't think there's a team in the NFL that has that vigorous a schedule in a four-week period of time,'' Green said.Those are things that are part of it.''
Good teams overcome such obstacles, however, and the Cardinals have shown signs of progress. They've been outscored this year by just 16 points, compared with a differential of 227 last year, when they went 4-12. The defensive scoring average has improved to 20.2 from a league-worst 28.3 in 2003.
And Emmitt Smith has given the offense a boost by playing better than last year at age 35. He's averaging 4.0 yards per carry and needs 59 yards to become the first 18,000-yard rusher in league history.
I don't know who said he didn't have anything left,'' Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said.They're blind or stupid or both.''
While Smith gives Arizona a respectable ground game, the Dolphins rank last in the league in rushing. But the causes of their decline stretch far beyond the unexpected retirement of running back Ricky Williams in July.
``If we had Ricky right now, the way we've been playing, we might have one extra win,'' linebacker Zach Thomas said.
The lone win since Williams retired came two weeks ago came when the Dolphins ambushed the overconfident St. Louis Rams. Might the Cardinals fall into the same trap?
Absolutely not,'' Arizona defensive end Bertrand Berry said.We've only won one more than them, so there's no reason for us to feel good at all about our chances.''