Coach Ken Whisenhunt has been preaching the same message for months. If the Cardinals want to win, they have to play tough and smart.
Through seven games, they've done one, but not the other.
The Cardinals have been in every one of their four losses. What's hurt them are turnovers, penalties and other critical mistakes. It's something coaches emphasized during their brief time with players during the bye week.
The Cardinals (3-4) led the league in penalties (59) and penalty yards (497) heading into their off week.
"Some of the things we've wanted to do -- playing tough, running the football -- I think we've done a decent job of," Whisenhunt said. "I think if we do some of the things that I said we were going to do which we haven't done, which is be smart and be disciplined and not having the penalties, our record would be a little better than it is now."
The Cardinals think they are battling perception as much as reality. Because of their losing history, they tend to get no breaks from officials, according to players.
"We're not going to get anything handed to us," said receiver Anquan Boldin. "We're just got to have the attitude that we have to play not only against the other team but the refs, also."
That's the prevailing opinion among the players. Whisenhunt is careful not to blame officials for the Cardinals' problems, admitting his team has been sloppy at times, and that players have made silly mistakes.
But he acknowledges that the Cardinals do have a reputation to overcome.
"Some of it is a function of, until we win more games, we're going to get some of those penalty calls," he said. "That's the natural way that this team is perceived sometimes.
"Sometimes, they're very justified. We've had some situations where we can't make those penalties. We have to play better football. I think we've been a little sloppy at times, and I think maybe that's the perception of this team."
If the Cardinals can eliminate a share of those mistakes, they could make a run in the second half, starting with Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. Their schedule is manageable, provided they can avoid key injuries.
One point of emphasis will be getting off to better starts. The offense has accounted for just two field goals in the first quarter of games this year.
"I'm going to quit talking about it because it obviously hasn't had an effect yet," Whisenhunt said. "The one encouraging thing is I hear a lot of our players starting to talk about. So it is obviously in their consciousness and if that's the case, then that means, that eventually, it's going to come true for us."
-- If the Cardinals watched football during their bye weekend, they had to be encouraged about their chances of making the playoffs.
In the NFC West, it appears to be a two-team race between the Cardinals and Seahawks. The Rams are 0-8, and the 49ers appear to be falling apart.
The rest of the NFC is a mess too, so a playoff spot can be had by a team that can put together even a small string of wins.
The Cardinals think they can do that if they can just cut down on the mistakes that have hampered them through the first seven games.
The Cardinals were supposed to be entering the easy part of their schedule, at least based on what teams did last year. But the Bucs, Lions and Browns are better than people anticipated, so the road looks tougher than once anticipated.
The next two games, against Tampa Bay and Detroit, are critical. The Cardinals already have lost to NFC foes in Washington, Carolina and San Francisco and can't afford many more losses.
--Ken Whisenhunt has proven he'll try the unconventional. Most of his gambles have paid off, and the level of confidence he's shown in his players has paid off in the locker room.
"Convention plays strong in the mind of coaches, because it's a bottom-line business, and because you never want to be the guy that pushes the envelope and costs your team," QB Kurt Warner told The Arizona Republic.
--QB Kurt Warner's injured left elbow isn't getting him out of any work at home, where he and his wife, Brenda, live with seven kids.
"The worst thing is, when you play a football game," Warner said, "how do you go to (your) wife and say, 'Well honey, I can't clean the dishes.'
"It's a good thing out here with the football team, not such a good thing at home when it comes to the 'to-do' list."
--QB Matt Leinart will wear a sling for a few more weeks. Leinart suffered a fractured collarbone and is out for the season. He can start rehabilitating once the sling comes off.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Anquan Boldin is going to be dealing with a hip muscle injury for the rest of the season. Boldin won't be 100 percent again this year, but he's close enough to impact games.
--TE Leonard Pope could become a bigger factor in the passing game. The Cardinals would like to get Pope open down the seam, and QB Kurt Warner has shown he can find him.
--QB Kurt Warner hopes to survive the next few weeks while his left elbow injury improves. Warner has a torn ligament, which has taken away some strength and flexibility. Doctors say he doesn't need surgery and that the injury should improve in a month or so. Warner will play with a brace on his non-throwing arm for the rest of the year.
--OLB Calvin Pace, who once wanted to see Arizona in his rearview mirror, is interested in re-signing with the team, and the club would like to have him back. Pace has played well in place of Chike Okeafor, who suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason.
--OLB Karlos Dansby is moving much better after suffering a sprained knee, and the team is hopeful he will be able to play against Tampa on Sunday.
--S Aaron Francisco, a key special teams player, has made progress in returning from a sprained knee. He could return this week.
REPORT CARD AFTER 7 GAMES
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The protection has been solid, and the receivers have delivered. The quarterback play, however, has been inconsistent.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Running back Edgerrin James has shown that he has plenty left, and the line play is much improved.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- There have been some breakdowns, but not nearly as many as last year. The front four has done a nice job of rushing the passer.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The club has kept opposing backs in check, for the most part, and it's given up only a few big plays.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- There have been some breakdowns on coverage teams, way too many penalties and punter Mike Barr is inconsistent. Returner Steve Breaston has big-play ability, and the club has blocked two punts.
COACHING: B-plus -- A good, solid job, and Ken Whisenhunt has been willing to take some chances. The majority have panned out. This team needs to play smarter, however.