From the time Jordan Hicks hit Cam Newton early in Sunday's game against the Patriots, the ball fluttering into the air and then into the waiting hands of linebacker Markus Golden – setting up a short-field touchdown for the Cardinals – the Arizona defense played a game worthy of a victory.
That didn't happen, of course, in part because the offense stumbled in the second half, because the special teams broke down at inopportune times, but also because at the end of the game, needing a third-and-13 stop to preserve a chance at overtime, even the defense couldn't totally finish a pretty good day.
For a unit smacked with injuries all season, expectations haven't been overwhelming. But it doesn't change the frustration.
"We haven't played a complete game all season," linebacker De'Vondre Campbell said. "We still have everything we want right in front of us. In terms of saying have we reached out ceiling? No. We're not even close."
With the Cardinals trying to overcome a three-losses-in-four-games span and maintain their current playoff spot, the Rams visit Sunday – the same team that since Sean McVay had taken over as coach has scored 33, 32, 34, 31, 34, and 31 points against the Cards in going 6-0 head-to-head.
Last year, Rams quarterback Jared Goff had more than 400 yards passing at State Farm Stadium with more than 8 minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Rams are also not playing at their best level offensively of late, with Goff turning the ball over too much and L.A. upset by the 49ers, 23-20, this past weekend.
"We can't worry about how streaky they can be," Campbell said. "When they are clicking, they are a really good football team."
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph managed to get a unit performing well enough against the Patriots -- "I thought VJ had a great plan going in," coach Kliff Kingsbury said – despite massive injuries on the defensive line and the continued hole playing without star pass rusher Chandler Jones.
Linebacker Isaiah Simmons has come on (although Campbell, recovered from a calf issue, retained his starting spot and a 51-16 edge in snaps over the rookie in New England). The Cards were still a top 10 defense in the most recent rankings on Football Outsiders DVOA, and are 12th in yards per play, 11th in interception rate and 10th in sack rate.
"We can't use the excuse of guys being hurt for some of the mishaps we have had," Campbell said. "We have to make it happen. That's what good teams do.
"It's all on us."
LAWRENCE ACTIVATED TO ROSTER
Defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence (ankle) was finally activated from Injured Reserve Tuesday, with his three-week window to be able to return from IR closing Wednesday.
Images from the Week 12 matchup in New England.