Linebacker Gerald Hayes (54) and the Cardinals are careful not to lose focus as they head into the middle part of their schedule.
The Cardinals like where they are. They like the idea of where they could be.
After six games, they have matched their 2008 record of 4-2, and they enter a part of the schedule with five straight games against teams without a winning record and four games against teams that are under .500 – Carolina, Chicago, Seattle, St. Louis and Tennessee. Combined, those teams are 7-24.
But knowing those facts, and knowing they are on their own three-game winning streak, isn't enough for the Cards. They insist the focus hasn't changed.
"I don't know what we have accomplished that allows us to think we can rest on our laurels," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "I hope we don't even have to talk about that. In this business it's about every Sunday and winning and accomplishing something a lot bigger than a 4-2 record after six games. Nobody plays for that.
"Hopefully, we understand that here and that's going to prevent anything like that from happening, not only this week but for the rest of the season."
First comes Carolina, a 2-4 team struggling ever since the Cardinals beat them badly in last year's playoffs and coming off a loss at home against an equally struggling Buffalo team.
But Whisenhunt and his players have repeatedly referred to the Panthers' 12-4 record a season ago as proof they are dangerous, and they've done nothing but praise different parts of their game. Playing games at home normally would inspire confidence, but the Cards also have their season-opening home loss to San Francisco to keep them grounded.
"We're not going to be lulled to sleep by their record," receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "This team can knock our block off if we don't come to play on Sunday."
Fitzgerald has heard the phrase "trap game," but he and Whisenhunt aren't buying into any of that.
"I don't see it as a trap game," Whisenhunt said. "This is a team that was 12-4 last year. They were the number two seed in the NFC. They still have a lot of those players there. They have had some turnovers that have cost them and hurt them in a lot of games. We certainly are not looking at them as something like that."
The Cardinals still see running back DeAngelo Williams, who remains one of the league's best, and wide receiver Steve Smith, who has had a host of big games against the Cardinals over the years. The defense, led by pass rusher Julius Peppers, is fourth in the NFL and tops against the pass.
There's also the knowledge the Panthers would like some revenge after the Cards' 33-13 playoff win.
"I know they want to pay us back from last year because we ended their season last year," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I know they are going to bring everything they got and try to kill us. We have to counter that, be ready and bring our 'A' game."
The Cards' focus goes beyond the Panthers, though, and even beyond the upcoming schedule. Even with a 4-2 record, the Cardinals feel they are still trying to prove to the rest of the NFL that last season's Super Bowl run wasn't a fluke.
Losing an edge against any team, regardless of record, could result in a loss – a setback nobody wants either in the standings or in the quest to convert doubters.
"We still don't really get respect," linebacker Gerald Hayes said. "We have to look at each game as what it is: The next game. We can't overlook anybody. Some guys do overlook but not us as a team. In order to accomplish what we want … we look at each game as one at a time."
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