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Cardinals Ready To Start Rolling

Encouraging win over 49ers brings optimism heading into "Monday Night Football"

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Cardinals cornerback Marcus Cooper (left) celebrates last week's interception with safety D.J. Swearinger.


Style points were far from the Cardinals' mind during "Thursday Night Football" last week.

With a game on the road and a backup quarterback under center, they would have gladly taken the ugliest victory of all-time if it came to that, even against a subpar 49ers team.

But the Cardinals not only pulled away for a 33-21 win, some encouraging signs emerged. While the passing game wasn't great, the ground game and defense were. Even the much-maligned special teams unit was impressive.

The Cardinals are still only 2-3 on the season heading into an important "Monday Night Football" affair against the Jets, but the gloom and doom of the first four games has been lifted.

The core of this team has hit full throttle in previous years, and believes that speed is again attainable.

"I think we're ready," safety Tony Jefferson said, "to go on a roll."

The Cardinals are the most distinguished 2-3 team in the NFL, sitting in the top-10 in the league in scoring (25 points per game), points allowed (20.2) and point differential (plus-24). The issue, of course, is the oxymoronic nature of that sentence, since playoff-caliber teams usually aren't under .500 at this point in the season.

The Cardinals have a tough stretch coming up with games against the Seahawks, Panthers, Vikings and Falcons all before the end of November. That's why a winnable game at home against a 1-4 Jets team is so important, although the Cardinals aren't taking it for granted.

While the Jets have struggled on both sides of the ball, they have many of the same players from last year's 10-win team.

"Their record does not really fully indicate the kind of personnel that they have," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "They present some challenges."

Quarterback Carson Palmer is back after missing the San Francisco game with a concussion, and he hopes to find the groove that was common in 2015 but has mostly been missing this year.

The Jets' secondary has been vulnerable against deep passes, and the Cardinals will aim to crank that up after struggling thus far. The big key will be if the offensive line can give Palmer enough time during those plays.

Right guard Evan Mathis was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury last week and left guard Mike Iupati is doubtful with a sprained ankle. Earl Watford will fill in for Mathis, while John Wetzel will man left guard unless Iupati unexpectedly plays. The backups held up well against the 49ers but have a tough task against a Jets defensive line which boasts Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

"A great, great front," Palmer said. "They play the run extremely well. They play the run as well as anybody's playing in the league right now. They rush the passer. They look like a run-stopping group (but) there's a lot of pass rushers in that group, too. Very, very good players."

Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown a league-high 10 interceptions and the defense hopes to force him into more, but the Cardinals aren't taking him lightly. Fitzpatrick threw for more than 400 yards and led a furious fourth-quarter comeback against the Cardinals as a member of the Titans in 2013.

"One thing about Fitz, when he gets hot, it's hard to put the flame out," Arians said.

This game is a reunion, as ex-Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles returns as coach of the Jets. He was a big part of the Cardinals' ascent, setting a tone which put an emphasis on play-making and aggressiveness in 2013 and 2014.

The Cardinals still feed off big plays, but the energy from those was largely missing during the season's first month. It returned in the second half against the 49ers, and now the Cardinals have their quarterback in the fold once again.

A loss to the 49ers would have put a pall over the 10 days off. Instead, the win fed the anticipation of getting the season turned around, with a home win over the Jets another essential step in that process.

"Last time we were on the field, we got back to the identity of what we created over the (18) games we played last year," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Now we want to continue gaining on that, building on that to propel us through the rest of the season."

Images of key players for this week's opponent, the New York Jets



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