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Cardinals Winning Game Of Survival

Arians sees resilient team, but one that needs to upgrade on mental errors during 6-1 start


Defensive end Frostee Rucker gives a reserved fist pump of celebration after the Cardinals pulled off the 24-20 win Sunday.

Bruce Arians only paused for a moment.

He was asked what he thought was the identity of his team, which now boasted a 6-1 record despite injuries galore, a lack of a pass rush and inconsistent offensive play.

"Survivors," Arians said. "We find a way to win. It's not always pretty."

The Cardinals had some spectacular, made-for-SportsCenter moments to beat the Eagles Sunday, with John "Smokey" Brown's 75-yard touchdown catch and on-the-edge defensive stands on both of the Eagles' final two possessions. The team's timing is impeccable in that regard.

And while the offense had far too many lulls, the quarterback isn't taking sacks or throwing interceptions. The Cardinals won the turnover battle. These are the things that tend to swing close games.

Sure, there is no clear-cut MVP on either side of the ball. That hasn't stopped them yet.

"If you survive you win, so I guess that's a compliment," safety Rashad Johnson said. "After the game, I said we were fighters. We're overcomers. It says a lot. It says you are resilient, it says you can go against the odds, and you can come out on top."

This is the best start the franchise has enjoyed since a 7-0 start in 1974. The Cardinals are alone atop the NFC standings, and have a two-game lead in the NFC West, although they still have two games left with Seattle and one with San Francisco – both of which are 4-3.

Besides the five remaining division games – the Cards still have to play the Rams twice as well – are games against the 6-2 Lions and the 4-3 Chiefs, as well as a road trip to Atlanta. And it starts in Dallas next week against the Cowboys (6-2).

Even with a nice record, Arians mentioned plenty he was concerned about. It was pointed out to him he had some negative things to say. "You should be in Wednesday's meeting," was his reply. "There are going to be a lot of things said."

"We had some really good outstanding individual performances (Sunday), but as a collective offense, defense, and I'll throw special teams out there also, we had too many malfunctions," Arians said. "The attention to details has to be better or else it'll come back and get us."

Arians lamented the mental errors, and how players aren't running the plays as coached in practice. "That's alarming and disheartening in a way," Arians said.

It's alarming because the Cardinals have been built on that week-to-week premise, the idea, Johnson said, that the team will "respect the process." That means working hard, for instance, on Wednesday until Wednesday is over. Not only are the players not to be thinking ahead to Sunday, they shouldn't even be thinking about Thursday at that point.

"We talk about it all the time in the locker room," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Guys wear the wristbands 'Complacency Kills.' We

constantly emphasize that and make sure everyone's punctual and doing everything they're asked to do and being accountable to each other."

That's how a team that isn't getting enough sacks (seven in seven games isn't good enough) or scoring a ton on offense does it. The defense may bend but not break (allowing only 19.9 points a game, and only 20 to an Eagles team averaging more than 30), and the Cardinals are plus-nine in turnovers, second in the league only to the Patriots. They also have three 75-yard touchdowns on offense already, after getting three all of last season.

Arians said he never has to worry about effort either. As long as the game is close, too, that survival instinct kicks in.

 "You start winning games in the fourth quarter, you believe you're going to win," Arians said. "You start losing games in the fourth quarter and doubt creeps in."

"I've been here with the Cardinals for six years, and when (the Eagles) kicked that field goal at the end to go ahead, I've been a part of (past teams) that didn't believe we could win," Johnson said. "This team believes that it's not over until every second is gone."

They are qualities that have pushed the Cardinals to the top of the standings. They are the qualities that Arians hopes will keep them there.

"I would hope we'd get one of those pretty games, but against the teams we're playing, it's going to be survival," Arians said. 

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