TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals are 5-1 for the first time in 38 years. After a victory at winless Oakland, the team sits alone atop the NFC West, with a two-game cushion in the loss column over San Francisco and Seattle.
Now the road gets a whole lot tougher.
There are three other one-loss teams in the NFL, and Arizona plays two of them the next two weeks. First up is a home game Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. A week later, there's a trip to Dallas to face the steamrolling Cowboys.
"We can't talk about Dallas. We don't play them until next week," coach Bruce Arians said, "But, this week, the Eagles are a big-time challenge."
After Sunday's 24-13 win at Oakland, Arians said his team was "nothing special."
On Monday, he was asked to expand on that.
"I think they know right now that if we don't play hard for 60 minutes," he said, "it's going to be very hard for us to win."
He said there isn't a team on Arizona's schedule that the Cardinals can't beat or that can't beat them.
Inside linebacker Larry Foote has been around for 13 NFL seasons, so he knows to keep a 5-1 start in perspective.
" Right now it means nothing," he said, "because you can lose five in a row so easily in this league. Then you guys will be talking bad about us. So we've just got to stay the course. We're about to get into the meat of our schedule, I know that."
Arizona won nine of its last 11 games last season, so that makes them 12-3 over the last 15 games. The Cardinals haven't won 12 in a 15-game span since 1975-76. The 12-3 record is tied with Philadelphia, Denver and New England for the best in the NFL over the last 15 games.
But there remains a belief on the team that the Cardinals have yet to put together a complete game. The win in Oakland might have been the closest to it yet.
"Defensively, this was our best game as far as mental errors," Arians said, "but offensively, we still continue to run a route short, line up wrong, do some things that are uncalled for. We need to sharpen ourselves up offensively. We had a sack because of a miscommunication on who the 'Mike' linebacker was. Little things like that are hurting us offensively."
After the Raiders managed just 56 yards on the ground, the Cardinals rank first in the league in run defense, a fact that will be severely tested by Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy and Dallas' DeMarco Murray.
Arizona ranked first against the run last year.
"They've been preaching that since I got here," said Foote, who signed as a free agent in the offseason. "It starts at the top — our line coach, our coordinator or linebacker coach, they're always screaming. They demand us to be good against the run, and they don't let up."
The Cardinals are the only team in the league that has yet to allow 100 yards rushing in a game this season. The defense could be bolstered this week by the return of defensive end Calais Campbell, out for the last two games with a knee injury.
The pass defense statistics aren't nearly so impressive. But Arians said that's because opponents throw the ball so much because they can't run it. The stats also are skewed by Peyton Manning's dissection of the Cardinals three weeks ago.
Offensively, Arizona was able to move the ball on the ground better than it had all season. Andre Ellington finished with 88 yards rushing in 24 attempts and caught six passes for 72 yards. Stepfan Taylor carried 12 times for 40 yards and a score and caught two for 17 yards and a touchdown. .
Still ahead for the Cardinals are five division games. Arizona won at home against San Francisco in its only NFC West game thus far.
The Cardinals need to go 5-5 from here on to match last season's 10-6 record. That, though, wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. There's one way to assure a postseason berth.
"Our goal has just been preaching, 'Win the West, win the West,'" Foote said. "We've got a good start right now."
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