CINCINNATI – Players and coaches can feel it, and certainly Vance Joseph has as both a player, assistant coach and head coach – the defensive coordinator noting the euphoria that comes with a win in the NFL that makes a team feel like they won't lose again, or the gut punch of a loss that can make victories feel impossible.
The notion is relayed to nose tackle Corey Peters, who nods his head and allows a half-smile.
"It's so hard to win," Peters said. "That's why, no matter how it looks, no matter what the score, it's a dogfight out there.
"When you can get a win, no matter how it comes, it always makes everything better. It makes the next week easier. It makes it easier to go out and practice, more energy, everything. We say we start over every week, but everything carries over. It's like when you get into a fight with your wife. Y'all make up, but for a couple days, you know, the dinner comes a little later, she rolls the eyes a little more. You know?"
The Cardinals play the Bengals Sunday in a game in which both teams – winless over the first month of the season – are desperate to make things just a little bit easier with a win.
What has been frustrating is feeling of losing ground over the season – a near-win in the opener that ended in a tie and a one-possession loss in Baltimore when the Cards had the ball with a chance to win before an eventual meltdown loss to the Panthers and a game-long slog against the Seahawks – as an overall arc even while rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray learn on the fly.
"I don't think anybody's discouraged by what's happened the past four weeks," Murray said. "We've been in position to win some of those games, if not all of them, but that's how we feel. Going into this one, obviously, everyone feels like it's a must-win. Every game is a must-win, but this one especially just because it's the next one. We haven't won a game yet, so everyone feels like that."
The Cardinals (0-3-1) are seeking their first win after four games for a second straight year. Last season, they went to San Francisco at 0-4 before notching their first win, on the road. Those are the only two seasons since the team has been in Arizona they didn't get at least one victory in the first quarter of the season.
The Bengals are in the same place. Reeling after a blowout loss to the previously winless Steelers, Cincinnati is trying to get a win for first-year coach Zac Taylor. The Bengals played well in the opener against the Seahawks before falling by a point and haven't been able to get traction since. Like the Cardinals, they have battled injuries, with top two receivers A.J. Green and John Ross (IR) and left tackle Cordy Glenn all missing the game against the Cards.
"It's unfortunate that we're 0-4, but we're not discouraged," Taylor said. "We still have a very positive outlook on the way the season can go."
Neither side will have sympathy for the other. The Cardinals won't have wide receiver Christian Kirk, and it's undecided whether starters like linebacker Terrell Suggs (back), cornerback Tramaine Brock (back) or guard Justin Pugh (shoulder) will play.
"You want these guys to feel that based upon the effort they put in for the last month," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "They really have played hard and been in games and fought to the end and all the positive things you want from your team. We just haven't been able to close one. Obviously, for those guys you really want it."
Photos of Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill over the years