GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nothing colors NFL perspective quite like winning.
The Drew Stanton and Ryan Williams talk has slowed to a trickle. The concerns about elite tight ends have abated. Larry Fitzgerald reached a milestone that may calm those trade rumors. Oh, and what’s this? The playoffs are back on the table.
The Cardinals will head into their bye week feeling very good about themselves after a convincing 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The defense shut down Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez and picked off quarterback Matt Ryan four times, besting by one his season total coming into the game and giving him nine picks in his last two meetings with Arizona.
With Rashard Mendenhall out of the lineup, the Cardinals may have discovered their running back of the future in Andre Ellington, who totaled 154 yards, the fourth-highest total by a rookie running back in the franchise’s very long history, giving the Cardinals long-sought offensive balance.
After what seemed like a requisite first-quarter interception, quarterback Carson Palmer settled down to complete 13 of 18 passes for 172 yards and two TDs for a passer rating of 116. Those numbers included four completions to Fitzgerald, who became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 800 career receptions.
But the most important aspect of Sunday’s win is evident in the NFC standings. At 4-4, Arizona trails Carolina by a half-game and Detroit and Chicago by a full game for the final wild-card spot. But the Cards own tiebreakers over the Panthers and Lions by virtue of earlier victories, and the Bears don’t have QB Jay Cutler or a defense.
“That’s how you win a game,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “We knew what was coming up, and everybody was like, ‘Man, you don’t want to go into the bye week thinking about woulda, shoulda, coulda.’
“I could feel the energy when I came into the locker room. Everybody clocked in today. Everybody brought their ‘A’ game.”
If that continues, the Cardinals have opportunity in front of them. Arizona’s next two opponents, Houston and Jacksonville, are a combined 2-13 this season, raising the very real possibility of a 6-4 record when the Cards host coach Bruce Arians’ former team, the Colts, on Nov. 24, before what could be a big game with the playoff-hopeful Eagles on Dec. 1 in Philadelphia.
“Obviously, it was a better start to the ballgame,” said Arians, whose team took the lead on the first play of the second quarter and never gave it back. “But this game was won on Monday when I asked the team to come out in pads and we had a training-camp practice.
“A lot of teams would have balked at that, but our leadership and our veterans … we had the best practice we’ve had all year, and it set the tempo for this game and set the tempo for the rest of the season.”
To a man, the Cardinals agreed that this was the club’s most complete game of the year, right down to newcomer Teddy William’s 51-yard catch to set up the Cardinals’ first TD. It helps when the offense is executing.
“It is a lot closer to what we want to be,” said center Lyle Sendlein, who took a shot to throat during the game and could barely speak afterward.
“But we have to continue to work they way we did this week. It was real physical and we got after it. We haven’t had a practice like that around here in a long time, and I think it translated on the field tonight.”