The Cardinals, like John Brown and Michael Floyd post-touchdown last weekend, have enjoyed their 3-0 start but understand it means little right now.
Carson Palmer warned his teammates this week.
Defensive end Calais Campbell recalled the message, points that "really made everyone come back to earth." To start 3-0 is a great thing, certainly better than the alternative. But it doesn't put the Cardinals in the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs, the quarterback made sure to say.
As coach Bruce Arians put it, bluntly like always, "It's a short elevator ride back to the (expletive)house."
The Cardinals know that all too well.
Not all the Cardinals. But 13 players on the current 53-man roster, guys like Campbell and Lyle Sendlein and Rashad Johnson and
Patrick Peterson, were around in 2012. That was the year the Cardinals were the toast of the NFL in September after a 4-0 start. They beat the Patriots and Tom Brady in New England, they smashed Michael Vick and the Eagles at home and they pulled out an improbable overtime win over the Dolphins on a fourth-down TD pass from Kevin Kolb to Andre Roberts.
Life was good. And then, the Cards took that short elevator ride.
The Cards were beat up on a Thursday night in St. Louis for the first loss, a game that Kolb was sacked nine times and really, the sacks had come fast and furious through the wins too. The holes on the roster were apparent – quarterback near the top of the list – and while no one saw a team that would lose 11 of its last 12, it wasn't a team that looked 4-0 either.
That's why, when Campbell thinks about 3-0, he thinks, "I've been there before."
The Cardinals won't be there again, though. There are reasons for that, not the least of which being the 2014 version of the team is built with a much more solid foundation. Palmer should be back for the next game, in Denver, but if his shoulder keeps giving him issues, backup Drew Stanton has proven capable.
That's a far cry from the Kolb-John Skelton-Ryan Lindley mashup of 2012. Stanton, within the Arians' offense, is more of a sure bet than Kolb was, not to mention Palmer's standing. Quarterback problems were always going to bite that 2012 team, and that is not a problem any longer.
But the offensive line is much better than two years ago, not only at the most important tackle positions but also with depth, where a Jonathan Cooper can be a backup.
It is this team's confidence that signals the biggest difference from that sparkling start from a couple of years ago. There were comments then in those early wins that guys believed they'd pull it out, but I never sensed the kind of belief then that the Cardinals now have under Arians.
Whether it's the Next Man Up thought process or the depth of the roster or just the way Arians and his staff conduct the day-to-day business, the Cardinals now deflect the problems so much easier than once upon a time.
It doesn't hurt that Arians is so good at ignoring the hype with just the right tone.
"All of a sudden, I'm the greatest damn coach in the world," Arians said. "I've been a sorry son-of-a-bitch for 17, 18 years now. That ain't changed just because we won a couple of games. You can't fall into that trap and forget the practice every single day thing. That's what gets you there; the process."
The Cardinals are going to lose some games. They might even lose the very next one in Denver a week from Sunday. They are not a perfect team. Yet they are built to sustain this good start they have provided, in part because they won't settle for just a good start. In some ways, that makes last year – 10 wins but no playoffs – an important factor, because the Cardinals know the bar is set high in the NFC West just to get to the postseason.
There will be no 2012-like elevator rides – a descent that, in the end, cost Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves their jobs and opened the door for Arians and GM Steve Keim.
"After you go 3-0, everyone is patting you on the back and telling you how good you are," Campbell said. "But we are not where we want to be yet."
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders during the game against the 49ers