No one gets a free ride in the NFL. Even the best teams face times of crisis, stunning peaks that suddenly dive into dark valleys. There's a reason only two teams have gone through an entire regular season undefeated in the Super Bowl era. Winning -- and winning on a consistent basis -- is damn hard work.
We get a great look at that in the second episode of All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals. Fans remember the Cardinals' regular season as a great success -- which makes sense because it was. Arizona went 13-3, won the NFC West and secured a first-round bye. But six weeks into the 2015 season, it was unclear just who the Cardinals were after puzzling losses over a three-week stretch -- first to the Rams at home, then against a Steelers team playing their third-string quarterback.
The Steelers loss has extra bite for Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who had hoped his Pittsburgh homecoming would end with a statement victory. The Steelers fired Arians as their offensive coordinator after the 2011 season, prompting the coach to turn his attention to retirement. But Colts coach Chuck Pagano called him up before Arians and wife Christine could get to their retirement home in Georgia. The rest was history.
Leaving Pittsburgh with a measure of revenge was supposed to be another notch on Arians' belt. It didn't turn out that way.
"We gotta get it corrected, alright?" Arians told his players in the locker room at Heinz Field. "But let the taste be in your mouth. Don't spit it out too quick. Because that's two we gave away now. Two we gave away. We can't give away no more."
» We get some good insight into the struggles faced by Patrick Peterson, who was diagnosed with diabetes during a lackluster -- by his shining standards -- 2014 season. Peterson couldn't control his body weight, and said learning he had diabetes was a blessing because it gave him answers. A side-by-side shot of Peterson's face in 2014 and 2015 shows just how much weight he carried before the diagnosis.
» This was Peterson's episode in many respects. We learn more about the health struggles, see him embarrass backup quarterback Drew Stanton in the "Chuck It To The Bucket" game, then watch him shut down Calvin Johnson in a blowout win at Ford Field. Peterson's combination of size, speed and agility is stunning on tape.
»Dwight Freeney shows up before the Steelers game. The old veteran was signed to help Arizona get to the quarterback. Remarked general manager Steve Keim during one practice: "From the couch to first-team rush. 54." Freeney seems like a super affable dude. During one practice, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries approaches Freeney and tells the former Colts star that he did a "project on him in middle school." Translation: You're crazy old, man.
» With back-to-back road games against East Coast teams, the Cardinals decide to spend Steelers week at The Greenbrier, a remote luxury resort in West Virginia (The Greenbrier also serves as the Saints' training camp). Arians shares a gem with old pupil Ben Roethlisberger before kickoff in Pittsburgh: "The hotel supposedly is haunted. Half the f-----' guys are scared shitless all f----- week. The strong safety said, 'I swear to God this little girl came up and was talking to me. Her name is Carroll. There wasn't nobody in my room!' Scared the s--- out of all the rest of them."
» Through two episodes, Arians is on pace for approximately 18,000 f-bombs. He makes Rex Ryan look like an altar boy serving Holy Communion.