Column: Cardinals Future Bright

Although it's just one game out of 16 games in the season, the Arizona Cardinals proved a substantial amount on Monday night. The foundation of this Cardinals football team is a tremendous one with exponential upside. The NFC, and the entire NFL, would be wise to take notice

It may be foolish to call a Week 1 victory a season-changing win but that may just be the case for the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals battled a tough San Diego Chargers squad and overcame an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to pull out an improbable 18-17 win.

Arizona racked up over 400 yards of total offense and used timely play on defense to overcome a determined Chargers team that held a 17-6 lead with under 13 minutes to play. The Cardinals rallied in large part behind the arm of QB Carson Palmer and a defensive unit that pressured QB Philip Rivers just enough to turn the tide of the game.

“We did good enough to win and build from it,” head coach Bruce Arians said after the game.

Amazingly, Arizona has turned into a hard-nosed, play-making team. Just two years ago, this team was a complete mess with little to look forward to in terms of expectations.

Oh, how things have changed.

The Cardinals proved worthy of the preseason hype they received coming into the 2014 campaign. Sure, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers continue to steal most of the headlines, but Arizona will be a force to be reckoned with in the NFC West.

After finishing 10-6 a year ago and missing the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, it was easy to pin the Cardinals success as a fluke. Sure, they played San Francisco relatively tough in both games last season and they’re the only team to beat Seattle at home in the past two years. However, it was easy to write that off as a feel good story and assume Arizona would regress as a potential contender in the division.

That is no longer the case.

Back to Monday night’s game, where the Cardinals displayed an uncanny amount of grit and determination in pulling out the victory.

Arizona overcame losses to several key defensive players (Darnell Dockett Daryl Washington, Tyrann Mathieu) but still looked like a physical, smash-mouth type of unit. They held the Chargers to under 300 yards of total offense and continue their signature strength of stopping the run, allowing only 52 yards rushing.

Meanwhile on offense, Palmer once again confirmed himself as a legitimate starting NFL quarterback. Palmer’s career has been an up-and-down ride, but it appears he’s on quite an uptick right now in Arians’ aggressive offensive scheme.

“It’s a great team win, offensively, defensively, special teams wise,” Palmer said. “It was a good way to start the season off,” he added.

Speaking of Arians, the transformation he’s directed in the desert is one to be envy of. He has a team with playmakers who can stretch the field through the air as well as a punishing ground attack from a cast of characters that you wouldn’t expect it from. Combine that with the before praised defense and you have a recipe for success.

That recipe ensures that Arizona has a bright future ahead in 2014 and beyond.

As good as the Cardinals have looked over the second half of last season and Monday night against San Diego, there is still plenty of room for advancement. Palmer continues to get better under center, RB Andre Ellington isn’t even truly healthy and WR Larry Fitzgerald only had one catch against a suspect Chargers secondary.

Defensively, the return of Mathieu will help immensely and the addition of LB Larry Foote has the loss of Washington looking like a distant memory for now. Arizona’s aggressive style on defense and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ knack for dialing up blitzes at the ideal time will make this a formidable unit all season long.

“We did a little bit of everything tonight,” CB Patrick Peterson told reporters following the win. “We didn’t want to send them too much pressure early … coach Bowles did an awesome job of mixing it up.”

In the end, Monday night was just another game and one win in a season of 16 games for the Cardinals, but it seems bigger than that. Arizona proved that it can hang with postseason-caliber teams, proved it’s never out of a game with the ability to rally late, and proved it can when a game when things aren’t clicking on all cylinders.

The foundation of this Cardinals football team is a tremendous one with exponential upside. The NFC, and the entire NFL, would be wise to take notice.

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