Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald congratulates prone tight end Anthony Becht after Becht's first-half touchdown in Sunday's 41-21 win in Chicago.
CHICAGO – Coming off a bad loss to Carolina the week before, the Cardinals carried with them a quiet confidence in the week leading into their game against the Bears.
Redeeming themselves almost seemed inevitable.
Yes, the Cardinals were who everyone thought they were: A team with a 5-3 record at the season's midway point, atop the standings of the NFC West after dominating the Bears, 41-21, Sunday at Soldier Field.
"The last thing I'll say," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said with a hint of a grin, "is we didn't let 'em off the hook."
Other than a couple of TV clips, there were few echoes of that long ago disaster against the Bears from 2006. This is a different coaching staff and a different mentality, proven with the fact the Cards are 4-0 on the road for the first time since 1982, long before the franchise moved to Arizona.
"This shows we can rebound," defensive end Calais Campbell said.
The Cards responded in many ways.
Quarterback Kurt Warner came back from his five-interception game against the Panthers, by throwing five touchdown passes Sunday to equal his career-high. The last one came after the Cards tried to replace him with Matt Leinart and then went back to their veteran after the Bears (4-4) pulled within 13 points.
The defense came back after allowing Chicago to creep closer midway through the fourth quarter, when safety Matt Ware intercepted quarterback Jay Cutler to set up the Cards' final score and bury the Bears.
And then there was the big-picture win, hanging on to first place in the division.
"It was good to see how we bounced back," Whisenhunt said.
The first half cemented the win. The Cardinals were the definition of offensive efficiency, scoring on all five drives before halftime, and the only reason the final one resulted in a field goal instead of a touchdown was because the clock ran out.
The Cardinals didn't punt until 5:38 left in the third quarter.
"You see the capabilities of our offense when we are clicking," said Warner, who completed 22-of-31 passes for 261 yards and a passing rating of 135.9.
With wide receiver Anquan Boldin sitting out (Boldin was unhappy, saying he was the healthiest he's been on his sprained ankle), Larry Fitzgerald had nine catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals also rushed for 182 yards, getting 77 from Tim Hightower and 72 from Beanie Wells.
The game's tone was set on the first drive, even before the Cardinals scored a touchdown. After a 13-yard run by Tim Hightower, Bears Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris found himself on top of Cardinals guard Deuce Lutui on the ground, with Lutui face down. Harris punched Lutui in the head, earning not only a 15-yard penalty but an ejection.
Lutui said he didn't know why Harris went after him, calling the play "crazy."
The Cards may have had their way with the Chicago defense anyway, but the absence of Harris just four plays into the game short-circuited any chance for the Bears to hold up.
At least, that's how it looked as Warner carved them up.
The Cardinals sacked Cutler four times, although he did reach them for 369 yards passing and three touchdowns to tight end Greg Olsen, but it didn't matter much. Special teams also shined, with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie blocking a field goal near the end of the first half, leading to a 59-yard return by Antrel Rolle that set up a Cardinals' field goal.
It was the perfect way to answer the Panthers' loss.
"That's what life is about," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "Every football team is going to go through something."
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