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Cardinals Develop Killer Instinct

Rout of Buccaneers latest in string of blowouts since start of 2015


Running back Chris Johnson celebrates the touchdown which put the Cardinals ahead 40-7 on the Buccaneers.

Sports bars are a dangerous place for necks on Sunday afternoons.

As each block of NFL games ticks toward its end, patrons must beware of whiplash as they crane to see every finish.

Close games are ingrained in the fabric of the league, as better teams are often challenged to the end by inferior opponents because the distinction between them is thin.

More than two-thirds of outcomes in the first two weeks of the season ended within one possession, and there were more games decided by two points or fewer (7) than three possessions or more (6).

"It's 'Any Given Sunday' as opposed to college, where some teams are favored to win by 40 every week," defensive tackle Rodney Gunter said. "In the NFL, everyone has talent. You don't expect a team to win by 40."

In the past year-plus, the Cardinals have often wandered from that script. Buoyed by a combination of extreme talent and an aggressive coach, they have won seven of 18 regular season games by at least 17 points since the start of 2015.

Their 33-point win over the Buccaneers last week is the largest victory in the NFL this year, and the Cardinals have won by three possessions or more 20 percent of the time since Arians took over. In the team's 25 years in Arizona before he arrived, that number sat at 5.5 percent.

Arians has developed many things within the culture of the Cardinals, and an important one is the addition of a killer instinct.

"That's our philosophy, to keep pressing it, especially offensively," Arians said.

When teams have comfortable leads at halftime, it can make coaches uncomfortable. There is the natural worry of a letdown in the second half, which has played out time and again historically.

The Cardinals have done an impressive job lately of not allowing teams back in. Arians was disappointed when his defense gave up a touchdown to Tampa Bay early in the third quarter on Sunday, but the offense responded with a field goal, and cornerback Marcus Cooper then sealed the game with a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"It is hard having a lead sometimes, coming out with the same mentality and the same focus," defensive tackle Josh Mauro said. "But if we're able to do that as a team, it makes the game a lot easier, and the end result is usually what we want it to be."

While some teams will go run-heavy to trickle precious time off the clock, Arians will go for the jugular. He believes the potential to expand a lead outweighs the downside of possibly giving the opponent more opportunities to catch up.

The move is not common in the NFL, but it's hard to question the results. The Cardinals have won 29 consecutive games when leading after three quarters, many times turning decent first-half leads into routs.

"We're able to run it a little bit more, but that's not really (Arians') mentality, and it's not our mentality," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We want to always do what we do."

The Cardinals have a formula. When they begin a game, all they think about is the first half. Then, once they get into the locker room at intermission, Arians puts it into perspective.

"We go out and play the best 30 minutes we can, and then come back and see what we have to do the next 30 minutes," Mauro said. "No matter if we are up by 20 or down by three, it's not where we want to be. … If we're winning, he'll kick us in the shins and level us out so we know to finish the right way."

Naturally, there will be many games this year that go down to the wire. The 23-21 loss to the Patriots in the opener was the first example. But when there is an opportunity to put away a team early, Arians will take the shot every time.

"Ever since I've played the game, that's the way I've played," Arians said. "I was coached to play that way, so I've never changed."

Images of Cardinals fans during the Week 2 win over Tampa Bay

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