Arizona Cardinals Off To Surprising Start

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Quick! Which NFL team currently holds the league’s best record? If you said Denver, New England, Detroit or Philadelphia, you're wrong, but not too far off. If you said Oakland, you definitely haven't been paying attention.

The answer is Arizona. But outside of their home state, the Cardinals aren’t getting the kind of buzz that a 7-1 record normally generates. The Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers fills in Bill Littlefield on what the rest of the football world has been missing.

BL: The Cardinals are leading the NFC West, a division that also includes the Seattle Seahawks — last season’s Super Bowl champs. I see evidence that fans are irked at the lack of national attention. But how is the team feeling about that these days?

They're 14-3 in their last 17 games, So it's not a fluke -- this team is for real.

Kent Somers, Arizona Republic

And I think they've kind of adopted the philosophy of, "Well, it's not college football, so it doesn't really matter what people think of us because of where we rank, etc., as long as we're atop the standings." Which they are — I think they're not sweating it.

BL: Years after his heyday with the Rams, quarterback Kurt Warner guided the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in 2009 and another playoff appearance the next season before retiring. Now the Cardinals have Carson Palmer — formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders. Is Arizona now the place where old quarterbacks go to have last a hurrah?

KS: [Laughing] It's beginning to look like it — where they go to have their careers resurrected a first time, and in Warner's case, a second time. And it's funny, the coach, Bruce Arians, when he arrived — he's 62 years old in his first NFL head coaching job; and then Palmer at age 33 arrived last year at the same time — and Arians said, "We're like two old cowboys at our last rodeo: we both know this is it."

BL: Arizona’s leading rusher, Andre Ellington, hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game this season. Perennial Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald has more than 500 receiving yards, but only two touchdown catches. How are the Cardinals producing enough offense to win all these games?

[sidebar title="NY Jets Fans Fed Up" width="630" align="right"] New York Jets fans have resorted to paying for advertisements to voice their displeasure with the team's management. But they're not the first fans to go down that path. We take a look at the history of fans spending cash to send a message. [/sidebar]KS: Well, they've done it really with defense primarily. It's been the most consistent thing through eight games. It's played really well and surprisingly so. They've suffered a lot of losses through both injuries and a suspension to Daryl Washington, maybe their best defensive player, a linebacker. So that's been a real surprise, but that consistency has allowed the offense to have some up-and-down performances.

And it's also an offense that has a number of real scoring threats. It's not what it used to be when Larry Fitzgerald — it was almost a given that he was going to get 100 catches and 1,300 yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns in a season. They've got Andre Ellington. They've got not only Fitzgerald but Michael Floyd and a rookie from Pittsburgh State in Kansas, John Brown, who has four touchdowns. So Carson Palmer has a lot of threats at his disposal, and they spread the ball around pretty well.

BL: Last weekend, the Cardinals beat the Dallas Cowboys, also a very good team this year. You wrote that Cardinals fans are finally outnumbering Dallas fans in Arizona. What’s the evidence of that, and why was Dallas more popular there to begin with?

[sidebar title="The Cowboys Hot Start" width="630" align="right"] After the Cowboys jumped out to a 5-1 start, Bill Littlefield spoke with one of the team's beat writers to figure out what the team was finally doing right. [/sidebar]KS: Well before the Cardinals moved here in 1988, from what people tell me, the Cowboys games were televised here almost weekly. And they were by far the most popular team here. And there were several Arizona State players who went on to the Cowboys who had great success, so that obviously helped. In the early days, when the Cardinals were playing at Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State, the crowds were probably 70 percent Cowboys. Over the 18 years they were at Sun Devil, I think they had 12 sellouts and seven of them were against the Cowboys. So it was an interesting phenomenon. And of course the Cowboys were in their heyday then, and the Cardinals were still struggling, losing at least 10 games every year. So it wasn't easy to be a Cardinals fan — you had to have a lot of wherewithal.

BL: The Cardinals will play St. Louis this weekend, which sounds really odd if you’re a baseball  fan — and then they play two very good teams in Detroit and Seattle. Do you think the Cards will keep up their league-leading pace and make a run at the Super Bowl?

KS: I think they can. I've been asked a lot if this 7-1 record is a fluke and if it's sort of a Cinderella story, and it's not. Really this transformation started at mid-season of 2013. They won seven of their last nine games a year ago. So they're 14-3 in their last 17 games. So, it's not a fluke — this team is for real. A lot of things have to happen, of course, to get to the Super Bowl. And they have to be somewhat lucky. But it's a good team. They're well-coached and they have a nice nucleus of leadership. And of course you have to have the quarterback in the NFL or you're not going to get there. And Carson Palmer's really probably never played better in his career.

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This segment aired on November 8, 2014.


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