GLENDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - The Oakland Raiders keep trying to climb from ineptitude to respectability. The Arizona Cardinals have shown it can be done.
Staying a contender through inevitable personnel changes is another matter.
Routed by 34 points in Atlanta last weekend, the remodeled Cardinals play the Bruce Gradkowski-led Raiders on Sunday in Arizona's home opener.
"After you get whipped like that you've got to definitely respond," Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell said. "That's how you know what this team's about. It's a big week for us."
After surrendering 444 yards against the Falcons, the Cardinals' defense held a players-only meeting on Wednesday to air out their feelings.
The team leaders who called the meeting, notably defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and outside linebacker Joey Porter, were conspicuously quiet when it came to talking to reporters after Wednesday and Thursday practices. Safety Adrian Wilson finally spoke briefly and with great reluctance.
"I don't really have anything nice to say," Wilson said. "I mean, we got whupped. We didn't even put up a fight. It's hard for me to say anything right now. Everything I say is going to be negative. I don't want to go that route."
The Raiders already have responded to a rough beating. After losing at Tennessee 38-13 in the season opener, Oakland came home to beat St. Louis 16-14.
"The confidence level is pretty high right now," Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "After the opening game against Tennessee, we wanted to see how we were going to respond as a team. We came out against St. Louis and got the win, and in this league a win is a win, no matter whom you are playing or how you get it."
Arizona's victory also came against the Rams, 21-17 at St. Louis in the season opener.
Raiders coach Tom Cable needed only six quarters to switch quarterbacks, benching Jason Campbell in favor of Gradkowski.
Campbell has been the designated starter since the Raiders acquired him from Washington in a trade during the draft, even signing him to a one-year, $4.5 million contract extension for 2011.
But Cable made the quick change to the fan favorite Gradkowski.
"The reasons are pretty simple," Cable said. "First and foremost is the energy and the level of intensity that was brought into the huddle when he came into the game. They way the guys responded around him. And obviously scoring points."
The Cardinals, two-time defending NFC West champions, already went through their quarterback issues. Coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to go with Derek Anderson over Kurt Warner's heir apparent, Matt Leinart. Eventually, Leinart was released and re-signed as a reserve in Houston. That leaves undrafted rookie Max Hall as Anderson's backup.
Anderson, true to his reputation, has been inconsistent. He led the team on a winning touchdown drive against St. Louis but threw two interceptions against Atlanta. Anderson understands the early changes at the quarterback position, not only in Oakland but elsewhere around the NFL.
"You've got to win," he said. "You've got to make the throws, you've got to play well, be a leader for your team. That's the bottom line. I understand that and I think every quarterback in the league understands that."
Arizona expects to have running back Beanie Wells available for the first time this season. The second-year pro from Ohio State, the team's leading rusher last season, sat out the first two games with what the team had said was a bruised right knee. However, late in the week, Whisenhunt confirmed the running back had undergone arthroscopic surgery. Wells said it was to repair a torn meniscus.
His return could mean a heavier reliance on the run, which has been one of the better aspects of Arizona's game. Tim Hightower had a career-best 80-yard touchdown run against the Falcons.
Anderson will have his top two targets, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, but three rookies hold the next three wide receiver spots.
The game will feature a matchup of two of the best players at their positions in the NFL _ Fitzgerald and Asomugha.
Fitzgerald still is coming back from a bruised right knee that kept him out of the final three preseason games.
"He still looks like the Fitzgerald that I know," Asomugha said. "... Watching him on film is all the same to me. That same competitor, that same competitor, that same elite talent in this league."
Fitzgerald has been slow to get in synch with Anderson but still has 10 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. He said going against Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in practice helps him get ready for Asomugha.
"It's a great challenge," Fitzgerald said. "He's one of the premier corners, if not the best, in the business, but I have a great corner in DRC that I'm able to go against. He's preparing me to go against guys like him (Asomugha) and other premier guys in the league."
Arizona was 0 for 8 on third-down conversions against Atlanta and had 10 penalties in each of its first two games.
Even though the Falcons were without their top two running backs, they rushed for 221 yards as the Cardinals missed tackles and messed up alignments.
Expect the Raiders to send running back Darren McFadden, with 240 yards rushing in two games, at Arizona early and often.
Whisenhunt, who has not had a losing season in his three years with the Cardinals, is not about to lose faith, though.
"I know the perception right now is not the greatest," he said, "but listen, I think we are excited about showing you that we can be a good football team."
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