The Cardinals have reached the bye with the same 4-4 record as a season ago, but are feeling much different about things.
Lyle Sendlein could barely speak, his voice in a low, hoarse whisper after he took a forearm to the throat Sunday against Atlanta.
"Good thing it's the bye week," the center croaked, and while the injury is nothing serious, it's just another reason why the Cardinals will benefit from a break.
"Me personally, I wish we could have a bye week every two games, but it don't happen like that," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "This week is perfect.
"Even though it is our D-coordinator told us, 'Make sure you stay in your plays, look over the playbook, get a jump on the Texans.' But there are a lot of guys that are tired and can use some days off."
There is time to rest. And reflect.
The Cardinals (4-4) are in the midst of playoff possibilities, although through half a season the 11-point lead the Cardinals blew in
the opening loss at St. Louis could eventually become a problem. That, and the game in San Francisco that had shifted the Cards' way until the waning seconds of the third quarter, are games that stick with coach Bruce Arians.
"I'd like to have one or two more wins," Arians said. "They were there. I think we're learning about ourselves still."
What have the Cardinals learned to this point? Arians wants better third-down conversions – at 3-for-10 Sunday, the Cards are halfway done with a 31.6 percentage for the season, much too low for his expectations. They've learned that rookie Andre Ellington is a dynamic and explosive weapon out of the backfield, even with limited touches.
They've learned that the defense, even with a new coordinator this year in Todd Bowles, still creates turnovers and pressure and is the backbone of the team. They've also learned the scouting reports on quarterback Carson Palmer were right, that with protection and little pressure he can be effective and his consistency wanes under duress.
The Cards continue to evolve. Arians said Monday he'd evaluate again the running back rotation when veteran Rashard Mendenhall returns from his toe injury, right now expecting Mendenhall to "resume his role" sharing time with Ellington. Bobby Massie got 21 snaps at right tackle sharing time with Eric Winston, and that sharing might continue, Arians said.
During this week, Arians said he and the coaching staff will break down the Cards' third-down, red-zone and two-minute parts of the team – those areas that Arians has always deemed the most important. Offensively, especially, the Cardinals have fallen short in those areas.
"(We will) see where we can improve," Arians said.
The players will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before getting their CBA-mandated four days off. And then the Cardinals will try to reboot for the second half of the season.
"I wish we could be undefeated like the Kansas City Chiefs," Dockett said. "Then again, things could be worse too."
Like being out of the race altogether at the midway point, for example. The Cardinals have the same record halfway through the season as they did last year, but the feeling now -- both with who is on the field and the schedule upcoming – provides a completely different vibe.
That can change though, which is why the Cardinals want to use the bye constructively, even while they rest.
"Nothing has been accomplished," Palmer said. "We haven't done anything yet. We have a long way to go, a long road ahead of us."