The Cardinals' impressive 2021 has turned doubters into believers. Many who once considered the NFC West team an afterthought now classify them as Super Bowl contenders.
The Cards still own the No. 2 seed in the NFC and are tied for the best record at 8-2. But two games into the second half of the season, some of the hype surrounding the team has temporarily faded.
"We knew we were going to face adversity at some point this year," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Anybody that doesn't think that going into an NFL season is crazy. It was just a matter of time. But we handle it by taking it one game at a time."
Coming off a disappointing loss to Carolina Week 10, the Cardinals aim to bounce back Sunday in a divisional matchup with the struggling Seahawks (3-6) in Seattle, losers of four of their previous five games.
The run defense did not have an ideal performance, giving up 166 total rushing yards to Carolina -- the most it has allowed in a game this season. But the unit aims to produce the kind of brick wall it had against the run games of the Titans, Browns, and Niners.
Defensive lineman Jordan Phillips is not looking at Sunday's game as an opportunity for the defense to bounce back. The veteran said the focus is cleaning up minor mishaps he believes fueled Carolina's field day.
"I honestly don't think we played that bad," Phillips said. "Some plays people were out of gaps and things like that. This is a defense where everyone has to do the job on every single play, or you'll see stuff like that. We play extremely hard and have a good group, and hopefully, we got those things fixed."
The Cardinals still have a top-five defense in total yards allowed and face a Seattle rushing attack who won't have the services of running back Chris Carson. But they will have quarterback Russell Wilson, who last week returned from a finger injury.
Wilson was rusty in the loss to Green Bay, throwing two costly interceptions that decided the game. But the veteran QB now has had a game under his belt, additional time to get comfortable with his surgically-repaired finger, and the advantage of playing Sunday at Lumen Field – one of the loudest stadiums in the league.
In his last four games against the Cardinals, Wilson has nearly 1,000 passing yards, a passer rating of 97.4, and seven touchdowns to three interceptions -- and all of the picks came in one game.
"He's like no other," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "As far as throwing the ball, he can make every throw. As far as his football IQ, it's very high. He's a winner; he's won for a long time.
"It's not going well for those guys right now. So, we expect his best shot on Sunday."
The offense will also look to put together a better performance this time around. Tight end Zach Ertz is unsure who quarterbacks on Sunday, with Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy uncertain to play.
Whoever that turns out to be, Ertz knows the pass offense could depend on him more, with DeAndre Hopkins ruled out Sunday with a lingering hamstring injury. En route to helping the team return to form, Ertz's only focus is being ready.
"We're not focused on who will and won't play," Ertz said. "I know I'll be out there, and I need to play well. That's all I'm focused on – being the best version of myself for this team, and that will give us the best chance to win."
Images from Thursday's practice in Tempe.