CHICAGO – Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins returned to the field.
The Cardinals won on the road – again – and by double digits – again.
By that measure, it was like the Cards were back to normal, after a bye week and after their quarterback and star wide receiver had missed more than a month and three games with their injuries. Sure, by the end of Sunday's 33-22 win over the Bears at cold, windy and wet Soldier Field, perhaps it didn't look quite as pretty as some others.
But that really didn't matter, not with the team now 10-2 with the best record in the NFL.
"I was being myself," Murray said, "playing the game I love to play."
"If you would've said before the season you'd have this opportunity," Murray added, "you'd definitely take it. This is all the hard work we put in. Now that we're in this position, we have to keep it going."
The Cardinals have started 7-0 on the road and the fact no team has come within 10 points of them away from State Farm Stadium, is a statement unto itself. (In fact, eight of the Bears' points came in garbage time, the game decided.)
The trip was about winning, and it was about the availability of both Murray and Hopkins, both crucial pieces if the Cardinals want to go anywhere in the postseason.
The two connected early, on a fourth-down, 20-yard touchdown pass that was one of their vintage connections to open the game's scoring, a beautiful foot drag grab by Hopkins on Murray's best throw of the game.
"It was awesome to have Hop back," said running back James Conner, who shouldered much of the offensive load with 22 combined touches. "(The TD catch) is just what he does."
Hopkins only had one other catch, and Murray threw only 15 passes with the weather dictating caution. But Murray set season highs in rushing attempts (10) and yards (59) while running in two scores, showing that his injured ankle is no longer an issue.
Murray shrugged off the rushing attempts, other than to say he felt good after warmups and knew he'd be OK. He said he wanted to throw the ball more often, but the weather wasn't going to let that happen.
But Murray was Murray. He acknowledged he could've played it safe on the Hopkins TD throw and just gotten the first down – "I had a guy wide open," he said – but that Hopkins was his read.
"No fear," Murray said. "You trust in the work you've put in."
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said it was a good game in which to limit Hopkins' snaps and said Murray showed some rust.
"(Kyler) made dynamic plays when we needed it," Kingsbury said. "He'll just get better and better."
The Bears (4-8) showed why passing a slick football could be a problem. The Cardinals picked off Bears quarterback Andy Dalton four times – once each by Budda Baker, Jalen Thompson, Byron Murphy Jr., and defensive lineman Zach Allen – and only one (Allen) was clean. Baker and Thompson each grabbed ricochets off Bears receivers; Murphy benefitted from a tipped pass by teammate Chandler Jones.
"I thought the defense was tremendous," Kingsbury said. "We were disjointed offensively. We couldn't throw it as well as we would've liked, but proud of the effort."
The Bears ended up with more first downs (26-14) and more yards (329-257), yet never really challenged. Their best chance came early in the fourth quarter, down 10, when Dennis Gardeck was flagged for a roughing-the-punter penalty. The Bears had life – until the next play, when Jones' tip of a Dalton pass fluttered into Murphy's hands for the pick.
Baker said the Cardinals knew they might have a chance to make some plays because "it was pretty slippery out there." But the Bears moved it more than the Cardinals would've liked.
"There were a couple of times it was frustrating," linebacker Jordan Hicks said, "because in our minds, they shouldn't have scored."
Again, though, those are details to get ironed out after a double-digit win. Sunday's was the kind of game the Cardinals needed to win, against an inferior opponent. Some can be explained as post-bye rust, or Murray/Hopkins rust, or just mistakes.
It speaks to the level that the Cardinals have reached.
The Cardinals now come home with an extra day to prepare for the crucial "Monday Night Football" game against the L.A. Rams. A win would put the Cardinals in a dominant spot to win the NFC West, in a season where so much more than that is now the realistic goal.
"We're trying to peak at the right time," Hicks said.
"As you win," Murray said, "it's closer and closer to that time."