Amid their extended run of success, the Arizona Cardinals are far from satisfied.
The Minnesota Vikings simply hope they're good enough to bounce back from a second humbling defeat in the last three weeks.
That won't be easy for the banged-up Vikings, who try to prevent the host Cardinals from winning seven straight for the first time in 41 years Thursday night.
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If it weren't for undefeated Carolina, Arizona (10-2) would be the hottest team in the NFC. After losing two of the first three in October, the Cardinals are eying their first seven-game winning streak since 1974.
Arizona could secure a playoff spot as early as this week, and would clinch the West with a victory and a Seattle loss or tie at Baltimore on Sunday. But even that might not bring enough gratification.
“We're still looking to improve,” hard-to-please Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told the team's official website. “I've got to find reasons to holler at them.
“There is time to look back on the journey and enjoy it but this isn't it.”
Though the Cardinals are emerging as Super Bowl contenders, Arians would never allow his players to think that – at least not out loud in public. Instead, Arizona will try to be better than their last game, but on a shorter turnaround.
“It's how you finish. Lot of football left,” defensive end Calais Campbell said.
The Cardinals are coming off their most dominating performance over the last six games with Sunday's 27-3 win at St. Louis.
Carson Palmer threw for 356 yards with two touchdowns, David Johnson and Kerwynn Williams combined for 158 rushing yards while Michael Floyd and John Brown together caught 13 passes for 217 as the NFL's top-rated offense racked up a season-high 524 yards. The league's fourth-ranked defense held the lowly Rams to nine first downs and 212 yards.
Even after that effort, the Cardinals still believe they can be better.
“We're held to a very high standard,” said Palmer, second in the NFL with 29 TDs and a 106.3 passer rating. “We're coached extremely hard and we're still shooting for a perfect game … That hasn't happened yet.”
Perhaps it comes against the Vikings (8-4), who are tied with Green Bay atop the North but currently hold the conference's fifth seed based on their 30-13 loss to the Packers on Nov. 22. Minnesota rebounded with a 20-10 victory at reeling Atlanta the next week, but were pounded 38-7 to Seattle last Sunday in its worst home defeat in 31 years.
''We're not quite as good as we think we are,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, whose team set season lows with nine first downs and 125 total yards Sunday.
Adrian Peterson is still the NFL's leading rusher with 1,182 yards, but he wasn't happy after carrying the ball only eight times for 18 yards – the third-lowest yardage total of his career. Down 21-0 at halftime, Minnesota essentially abandoned the run but Teddy Bridgewater went 17 of 28 for 118 yards with an interception, was sacked four times and failed to throw a TD for the second consecutive contest.
''You come out and get your teeth kicked in and you realize you're not as good as you think you are,'' defensive end Brian Robison said. ''For me, it means that we've still got a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be.''
The task remains difficult against a Cardinals defense that has held the last two opponents to 133 yards on the ground.
With nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot) out, and linebacker Anthony Barr (groin/hand) and safety Harrison Smith (hamstring/knee) forced to leave the game, Minnesota allowed a season-high 433 total yards – 173 on the ground – against the Seahawks. Those three were among eight Minnesota defensive players whose statuses are uncertain for this contest.
''Not having them, obviously, we need them back,'' defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. ''Everybody helps. Everybody counts. We've just got to man up and keep playing ball.''
And leave the excuses at home.
''If it wasn't a challenge half of us wouldn't even be here right now,” Floyd said. “More of these guys like to fight than they like to go into an easy game. So if it was easy, the pizza man would be doing it. But I'm glad we get the chance to do it.”
Minnesota has won its last three meetings with Arizona, but this is the first since 2012. Peterson has averaged 5.0 yards per carry while gaining 540 and rushing for five TDs in five games against the Cardinals.