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Cardinals Not Buying Into The Hype

Team more interested in winning on field than getting praise off it


The Cardinals don't believe they've accomplished anything despite a quick start.

Bruce Arians walked into the Cardinals' auditorium for a team meeting on Wednesday morning, knowing full well what had been said and written about his team the previous few days.

After a 2-0 start in which the Cardinals amassed the most points in the league (79) and the highest point-differential (plus-37), a previously-pessimistic national perception had changed. The Cardinals were legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Their offense was dynamite with a healthy Carson Palmer. The defense was adjusting fine to the loss of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.

As his players sat down, Arians opened with his own message.

 "You ain't (expletive)," the Cardinals coach said.

The Cardinals have looked fantastic to begin the season, but Arians is hellbent on keeping it in perspective. It's only a two-game sample, a miniscule amount which could very well have no bearing on how the season plays out.

So while analytics site Football Outsiders has called this the best two-game opening since the 2007 Patriots – they of the undefeated regular season – the Cardinals are thinking less about their start and more about last year's finish.

The Cardinals began 9-1 in 2014, but the season was derailed quickly as they went 2-4 down the stretch and lost a wild card game to the Panthers. Much of that dip was due to season-ending injuries to Palmer and backup Drew Stanton, but to Arians and the players, it was still an example of how a season can go sideways in a hurry.

"We haven't done anything," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "We understand the task at hand. Last year is a perfect example. We started out hot and kind of hit a wall. I think everybody's reminded of last year and how it ended for us. We want to put the pedal on the gas and just stay on it."

Many season forecasts pegged the Cardinals to finish near .500 because of their rash of tight victories in 2014 – something pundits think has more to do with luck than skill. It's the same reason why this start has been glorified.

The Cardinals have beaten the Saints and the Bears each by double digits, and have looked good in all three phases doing so. Football Outsiders ranks the Cardinals No. 1 offensively, No. 2 on special teams and No. 8 on defense in the NFL through two games. The site currently gives the Cardinals the second-best odds of winning the Super Bowl behind only New England.

Heady stuff, and one in a long line of compliments Arians summarily dismisses.

"When they're patting you on the back," Arians said, "they are looking for a soft spot where to stick the knife."

Safety Rashad Johnson was uninterested in outside expectations when most were negative heading into the opener. The Cardinals have now moved into the upper echelon of a variety of NFL power polls, but he's not paying any closer attention.

"Power rankings don't make you go to the Super Bowl," Johnson said. "It's about the game that we play on Sunday. It's good to be noticed, to have people saying these guys are doing good things, but at the same time, we know we're a long way from where we want to be with 14 games left in front of us."

Most players have a similar view, but there is a feeling among Cardinals fans that these accolades were long overdue. Even after sitting atop the conference after 15 weeks last year, the team was never grouped among the NFC elite.

Now the respect is coming, and it's in contrast to what was predicted just a couple weeks ago. A Sports Illustrated writer, for instance, forecasted a pair of wins to start the year for the Cardinals followed by an epic collapse -- ten straight losses and a 5-11 overall finish.

It seems far-fetched to nearly everybody at this point, except the guy checking egos at the door of team meetings.

"He might still be right," Arians said.

Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the San Francisco 49ers

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