The Cardinals won their season opener on Sunday for the first time since 2015, and there is an ever-growing segment of the NFL world that believes this team is just getting started.
After a solid finish to 2019 and a promising offseason, the Cardinals lived up to months-long praise by upsetting the defending NFC champion 49ers on the road.
On Sunday, they have a chance to pick up another win against a Washington team that is 1-0 but commonly picked to finish in the bottom quadrant of the standings.
Even though the Cardinals won't have fans in the stands to feed off during the home debut, quarterback Kyler Murray insists the team will not fall flat after a week of back-patting from the outside.
"There's no hangover," Murray said. "There will never be a hangover, at least for me. … The easy thing is to get complacent and feel good about a win against a good team, but that's not what we're doing here."
The Cardinals have been among the worst teams in the league the past two seasons, so it's been awhile since they were categorized as a comfortable favorite in a game.
If Kliff Kingsbury has any worries about keeping his players on the right mental track – he dismissed that notion earlier this week – the Cardinals coach can lean on his experience as a rookie quarterback with the Patriots in 2003.
Despite being on injured reserve that season, Kingsbury had a firsthand view of New England coach Bill Belichick's motivational tactics. After a 2-2 start that year, the Patriots won 15 straight games and the Super Bowl.
"I learned a lot from there," Kingsbury said. "After your wins, he was always hardest on you, always made the most corrections and was the most demanding. And when you lost, that was the time to make sure you build everybody back up and let them know that, hey, we're going to be better moving forward. I definitely learned a lot from coach Belichick, and he's been the master at that."
If the Cardinals execute, they should be in good shape this season, as the combination Kingsbury's schematics and a deeper roster proved to be a fruitful combination against the 49ers.
Murray was fantastic on the ground, rushing 11 times for 100 yards before a pair of late kneeldowns dropped him under the century mark. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was a game-changer from the jump, while the defense proved stronger than a year ago.
"It's what we expected, honestly," Hopkins said. "That's the way we practice. That's the way we prepare. We knew going out if we followed our game plan and didn't hurt ourselves, we would have a good chance of winning it."
Washington also enters riding high after rallying from a 17-0 deficit to knock off the Eagles, 27-17, in its opener. The defense was phenomenal, sacking Carson Wentz eight times and forcing three turnovers.
"First and second down, we cannot take sacks," Kingsbury said. "Going through the cutups, Philadelphia was in third-and-25, third-and-23, third-and-17, third-and-15, and you're playing right into their hands."
On the flip-side, the Cardinals' defense has a chance to make a statement against Washington's second-year quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, who went 14 selections after Murray in the first round of the 2019 draft.
The Cardinals struggled against opposing quarterbacks last season and weren't great against Jimmy Garoppolo in the opener, so a lockdown game would be encouraging.
"We've added four or five different starters, so we should be better, but after watching the game on Sunday, we're not there yet," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Good defenses don't give up (76-yard) touchdowns. Good defenses don't get penalties in critical moments."
Despite the issues, the Cardinals not only stood toe-to-toe with the reigning NFC Super Bowl participant, but came away with the victory.
For the first time in a few years, the Cardinals seemingly have the personnel to be competitive week in and week out, provided they are mentally sharp.
"We didn't necessarily consider ourselves underdogs (against the 49ers)," running back Kenyan Drake said. "Getting a victory on their home turf was pretty sweet because of what we felt like we left on the table last year. So it was definitely a good step in the right direction, and now we're going to focus on the Washington Football Team.
"They won against a great team in the Philadelphia Eagles, and watching that tape, they were very impressive. We definitely want to make sure we don't overlook them, because they can come in and wreak havoc on our home turf."
Images from Friday's practice, presented by Hyundai.