Linebacker Larry Foote celebrates his first sack of the season Sunday during the Cardinals' win.
OAKLAND, Calif. – Before the Cardinals kicked off against the Raiders on Sunday, vaunted NFC West foe Seattle lost its second straight game to drop to 3-3 on the year.
By the time the team landed back in Phoenix, the 49ers were also on their way to a third loss.
In between, the Cardinals accomplished exactly what was needed in a two-week stretch against a pair of struggling teams: Emerge unscathed.
These past two games have not been an overpowering display of domination by the Cardinals -- both the Redskins and Raiders have stuck around into the fourth quarter – but in the NFL, style points hardly matter. It's hard to go a week
without a head-scratching result around the league, and in consecutive games the Cardinals avoided that trap.
And even though coach Bruce Arians continues to temper expectations, the standings now show the Cardinals alone atop the division, two games ahead of any challenger in the loss column.
"We're not special, but we got a bunch of guys that are going to play hard for 60 minutes," Arians said. "We know we're not special. The one thing we've talked about all week was, you never underestimate your opponent and you damn sure don't overestimate yourself. We haven't done anything yet, except get to 5-1. There's a lot of football left."
The Cardinals needed this, because next Sunday begins the gauntlet to finish out the regular season. Ten games, beginning with the Eagles at home, which will test the team's mettle.
"Every Sunday gets bigger and bigger," left tackle Jared Veldheer said. "It's nothing but a good start. We need to keep the mindset of 'We need to win every week and see where the chips fall.'"
On Sunday, the Raiders were within one point in the third quarter, until the Cardinals put together one of
their most impressive drives of the season – eight plays for 80 yards in four minutes, 22 seconds – capped by a 4-yard touchdown run from Stepfan Taylor.
It began to take the air out of Oakland's sails, and the Cardinals didn't let up, using a long fourth-quarter drive to get a field goal and put the game away.
"That's the thing," Taylor said. "You can't underestimate any team in the NFL. Especially in this stadium, anything can happen."
The Cardinals are now one of only a handful of teams with one defeat in 2014. So what about earlier in the day -- were they buoyed at all by the Seahawks' surprising loss in St. Louis?
"Seattle lost?" wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "I had no idea."
If Arians knew, he wasn't going to share the news with his players pregame. Winning was motivation enough.
"Don't care," he said. "It doesn't affect our game whatsoever. When you start scoreboard watching you're going to get your ass beat. You better be worried about the task at hand. None of that other stuff matters."
Fitzgerald didn't like the feeling last year as he searched for updates in Week 17, when the Cardinals needed a New Orleans loss to have a shot at the postseason. The Saints won that day, eliminating the team from postseason contention before its game against the 49ers.
Now the Cardinals are in the driver's seat in the division. To a man, the players in the locker room afterward noted how many games still remain in the season, and how it's incumbent upon them to keep pushing.
"You can't control what anybody else is doing around the league," Fitzgerald said. "Just take care of your business."
The Cardinals have done that the past two weeks, setting them up for the future.