Quarterback Carson Palmer (3) congratulates wide receiver Jaron Brown (13) after Brown's touchdown catch Sunday.
The last time the Cardinals had a 7-1 record, the last time they held the NFL's best record this late in the season, was 1974.
That was the year Bruce Arians was trying to get away from his college football-playing days and become a middle school physical education teacher in Virginia, maybe even help teach driver's ed at the nearby high school.
"When I grew up, I thought high school coaches were rich," Arians said Monday.
Instead, he was talked back into staying at Virginia Tech, where he ended up getting into college coaching and the long and winding path
that put him in charge of what is as of now the team atop of the NFL standings. They got there with Sunday's 28-17 win in Dallas, the first time the Cardinals had won a regular-season game there since 1989 – and before 22 of the players on the current Cards' roster were even born.
Such trips down memory lane don't mean much to the Cardinals. Not with the way Arians has positioned his team to focus in on each week. It's cliché, but the Cardinals have seemingly grasped the concept better than most.
History isn't about the last time the Cardinals were 7-1, not when "every year, the team is not the same," cornerback Justin Bethel said. It's not about the last time the franchise won in Dallas, which would be more important to the team's radio analyst Ron Wolfley – who played in that game – than to the current players. The Cards hadn't even played in Dallas since 2005 before this past weekend.
If you want history, Bethel is willing to go back to 2012.
"Since my rookie year, especially starting 4-0 and plummeting from there, I feel like the group is really cohesive and we really trust in each other," Bethel said.
Since Arians arrived as coach last season, the Cardinals are 17-7. They are 14-3 since Week 8 of last season, the best winning percentage in the NFL in that time. They preach caution at every step, with defensive line coach Brentson Buckner telling his players that the only thing a 7-1 record guarantees is a final mark of 7-9.
"Coaches remind you it can go down real fast," defensive tackle Dan Williams said.
The game in Dallas was pock-marked with inconsistencies, whether it was ill-timed drops or an offense fighting both penalties and a
strange scoring lull in the third quarter. Arians believes that part of the team is slowly getting better, and the Cards will take 28 points every week – with their four-for-four red-zone performance – as they drive for the playoffs.
They seem to have the luxury of some offensive hits and misses because of a defense that after a half-season can argue it is underrated. It's lost key players and the statistics aren't always shiny, but teams can't seem to get through them when the Cardinals absolutely need a stop.
The Cards have had some breaks, like Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo missing Sunday's game. But the Cardinals' lone loss was in Denver in a game where they were missing starting quarterback Carson Palmer, and were within three points in the fourth quarter even after a Drew Stanton concussion had forced them to use raw rookie third-string QB Logan Thomas.
These are the reasons confidence has grown.
"I don't see any cockiness in our football team," Arians said. "I see a true belief we're going to win every week."
Williams said the Cardinals have a reason to zero in on each game. Last year, they understood how one loss could shatter a season, after a 10-6 record wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. That's the kind of history lesson the Cardinals pay attention to right now.
That includes Arians, who said all his friends went into high school teaching and coaching and are retiring right about now. They all once had plans to hang out and go to Virginia Tech games together at this point in their life.
Instead, Arians is making his own history coaching the NFL's leader.
"They text me every Saturday from the games in the parking lot (tailgating)," Arians said. "I say, 'Ah, (expletive). I have to work."