The Cardinals' defense has a tough task ahead Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense.
DENVER -- Tommy Kelly admits that, as a young player in the NFL, he couldn't wait for the choice games on the schedule. Primetime TV slots, star quarterbacks across from him, raucous environments – those were the ones that got his blood flowing.
Now 33, the Cardinals' defensive end sees it differently.
Come Sunday, Kelly will be primed and ready to face the illustrious Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champion Broncos, where a victory would vault the Cardinals to 4-0 and make them the talk of the NFL. But when it's done – regardless of the result -- he will turn his attention to the Redskins, a team with four wins in its past 20 games, and be just as psyched for that
"As you get older, you realize that every game is a big game," Kelly said. "It's hard to get a win in this league, so you try to pile them up as you go. You never know when you're going to have a slip here or there. We just need to keep focused and worry about what we're going to do, not get caught up in the hype and believe all the press clippings. Stay diligent, know our assignments and go out there and play fast."
Kelly's tone was indicative of the feeling around the Cardinals this week. A win would be great and a loss would sting, but neither changes the season forecast.
And with the way the schedule is shaping up, there are going to be plenty more enticing matchups. The Cardinals still have the Seahawks twice, the 49ers once more, the surprising Cowboys, the Eagles, the Falcons, the Lions – it's easy to see why staying even-keeled is the preferred option.
The Cardinals don't believe in riding a wave of emotion because, as surfers can tell you, one false move and it's face-first into the water.
"It's Week (5) of the NFL season," defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. "The game's not going to make us or break us one way or the other. Treating it any way other than that, we'd be fooling ourselves."
The Cardinals believe they are a good football team, one equipped to make the playoffs and make a Super Bowl run. Their 3-0 start has given credence to that theory, and a win over the Broncos with backup quarterback Drew Stanton at the helm would certainly make the case stronger.
Super Bowl talk was prominent among players this offseason, but has since been shelved. Tight end John Carlson said it's
important to put on the blinders, and on Friday, he wasn't even ready to turn his attention to Sunday's game.
"The season is a grind, and it can be overwhelming if you take it all in as a whole," he said. "If you break it down into what you can control – and what you can control is that moment – it makes it easier to handle. I can do my job on this day. I can do the preparation – get ready for practice, learn from my mistakes in the film room, watch my opponent. Every day there is something you can control, so control that. That's what (Arians) preaches, and guys are buying in."
The big key on Sunday, of course, will be stopping Manning. He put up historic numbers (5,477 passing yards, 55 touchdowns) last year and has a full complement of weapons with wide receiver Wes Welker in the fold after missing the first two games due to suspension.
When Manning goes to the line of scrimmage, it can be a theater-worthy performance. He's made famous the 'Omaha' call, which sometimes is an audible, sometimes not. He will point at defenders and pat his head, sometimes telling a receiver to switch routes, sometimes not.
On defense, the key is to avoid the hype.
"You just play the game and don't get caught up in the gyrations," Arians said.
The same can be said for the matchup, an important one now but one of 16 in the long run.
"For us, it's not do or die," Arians said. "We're going to come back in first place either way. We'd like to have a two-game lead. We're going to play as hard as we can for 60 minutes. That's been good to us so far."