Expectations in the NFL are inevitable.
The Cardinals had them, even with a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback. The Browns, who visit State Farm Stadium Sunday in the Cardinals' 2019 home finale, felt the weight too.
"If you are in the NFL, the vast majority of the time, your expectations for yourself are much higher than anyone can put on you," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I believe that to be true of this organization and this locker room. It's about getting better each day and controlling what you can control. That's more the message."
What the Cardinals can control is simply this: They have a chance to end a six-game losing streak and to do it at home, where they have struggled to have success the past couple of seasons. They'd also do it against their former coach, now-Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, and head coach Freddie Kitchens, who spent 11 seasons as a Cardinals assistant coach.
"You want to win every home game, first and foremost, and we haven't done that this year," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "With this being the last one, you definitely want to leave on a good note. You don't want to leave on a sour note."
There is also the subtext of the quarterbacks. Cardinals rookie Kyler Murray and Browns second-year signal-caller Baker Mayfield share a friendship and a friendly rivalry after playing together in college, meeting now in a matchup Murray said was "obviously special."
Mayfield said playing against Murray was about bragging rights and that "it is going to be really fun."
The Browns have run the ball well – Nick Chubb leads the NFL in rushing yards – but Mayfield has been up and down in his second season, throwing 15 interceptions with his 15 touchdowns. The Cardinals still are trying to find a rhythm with their backfield, between Kenyan Drake, David Johnson and Chase Edmonds, but the Browns are near the bottom of the league in run defense.
It still feels like the quarterbacks will make the difference, though. The Cardinals still have not consistently troubled opposing passing games, but perhaps Mayfield can be forced into turnovers.
"Hopefully we can muddy those (passing) windows a little bit," Peterson said.
Murray had been solid much of his rookie season prior to the bye, but in facing two good defenses in the Rams and Steelers sunk back into some bad habits – taking longer sacks, and throwing interceptions at a much higher rate.
Murray threw five interceptions the first 11 games of the season and four in the last two games.
The plan, Murray said, is "not trying to do too much, play my game and just let it all fall where it may. The past two weeks, I turned the ball over more than I ever really have. Just really not trying to do too much, let the game come to myself and just being myself and letting it come to me."
It helps the Cardinals that the Browns (6-7) are without their best pass rusher, the suspended Myles Garrett. But Kitchens' team should have some desperation, given that they were the chic pick by many in the offseason to be a Super Bowl contender, only to have that expectation backfire. Mayfield has been up and down in his second season, and now the Browns must win out just to have a chance at that postseason spot many just assumed they would have.
"They continue to play hard," Kitchens said. "They've come together. They run toward each other rather than away from each other in times of adversity. The execution has increased. They've done a good job of focusing and concentrating during the course of the week and making sure they know what to do. Then they get to Sundays, and they try to do the best job they can."
After all, what else can you expect?
"I go off of what I learned in college, which is be where your feet are," Drake said. "You've got plans, you've got goals, do what you need to do to turn up your preparation, but you can only go out and perform between those lines. Anything else doesn't really matter."
EXTRA POINT: Linebacker Jordan Hicks was not fined by the NFL for either of his first-quarter hits against the Steelers -- the first when he was flagged for unnecessary roughness against running back Trey Edmunds, and the second when Hicks hit running back Jalen Samuels, making Samuels' helmet go flying off his head. Hicks was not flagged for that play.