Consider the Arizona Cardinals the Dallas Cowboys of the West.
Sure, they won 10 games last season, but nobody expected them to contend for the NFC West title, not with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and NFC runner-up San Francisco in the same division.
But the Cardinals are among the surprise teams midway through the season, the lone one-loss team left in the NFC after a 6-1 start.
Quarterback Carson Palmer is in the midst of a resurgent year, playing about as well as he did in his Pro Bowl seasons in 2005 and 2006. Running back Andre Ellington gives Arizona a versatile option out of the backfield. And the defense seems to somehow find a way every week to do just enough to win.
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That’s what happened Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, when the Cardinals eked out a 24-20 victory despite Palmer completing less than half his passes and the defense giving up 411 passing yards to Nick Foles.
Palmer made a play when he needed to by hitting speedy receiver John Brown for a 75-yard TD, the go-ahead score, and the defense did just enough to find another way to win.
“I can’t say enough about the resiliency of our football players,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said after the game. “It’s a family, it’s a band of brothers that just will not quit.”
Arizona lost star cornerback Patrick Peterson in the first half against Philadelphia when he left with concussion symptoms. But the Cardinals believe they have good news on Peterson, who was jumping around in the locker room after Sunday’s win.
The expectation, for now, is that Peterson should be cleared to play against the Cowboys. Still, it was a scary moment for the team.
“You always hold your breath and say a quick prayer anytime a player goes down like that,” Arians said Monday during his weekly news conference.
• The Cardinals’ run defense has been terrific this season, although the Eagles became the first team to gain at least 100 yards against them on the ground. Arizona will try to bounce back and become the first team this season to hold Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray under the 100-yard mark.
• Cardinals backup running back Stepfan Taylor, a Mansfield High graduate, is expected to miss “significant time” after suffering a calf strain Sunday. Taylor has 63 rushing yards on 18 carries this season and scored his first career touchdown two weeks ago against the Oakland Raiders.
• Arizona has a solid kicker in rookie Chandler Catanzaro. He has made all 16 of his field-goal attempts and is tied with the Indianapolis Colts’ Adam Vinatieri for most makes without a miss.
“It’s just the will of this team. When you’re 6-1 in this league, something is going on.” — Veteran linebacker Larry Foote
+9 The Cardinals’ turnover margin this season, second-best in the NFL behind only the Patriots (plus-11).