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Cardinals deliver message in dominant win over 49ers

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel (28) runs back an interception for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game against the, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“Sorry, but we are unable to get to the phone at this time. Please leave your name, number and a message after the beep and we will be sure to get back to you. Thank you for calling.”

“Oh hey, NFL, just the Arizona Cardinals calling. We’re really good. Catch you later — good luck catching us.”

OK, so this message left on an answering machine never actually happened. I mean really, who even has an answering machine these days?

But it could have happened, at least in spirit. Because in their 47-7 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers Sunday in Glendale, the Cardinals showed the entire league that their fast start in 2014 was not a fluke. In fact, it may have only been the beginning.

“I thought we came out with a purpose,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We played for sixty minutes with that purpose and that was to get in first place in our division.”

The Cardinals did that, and after three games hold a two-game lead over every other NFC West foe.

But while winning is nice — no one will complain about a victory — it is how the Cardinals have gone about it that is most impressive and exciting.

The Cardinals have outscored the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears and 49ers by a combined 77 points, which gives them the best point differential in the league and the largest any team has held after three games since the 2007 New England Patriots, who were at +79 en route to their 18-1 season.

Carson Palmer has been sacked once while completing nearly 64 percent of his passes for 803 yards and nine touchdowns with just two interceptions. Larry Fitzgerald is partying like it’s 2008, John Brown is regularly burning defenders and Michael Floyd has yet to make an impact. The run game, which was among the worst in the NFL last season, is much improved, evidenced by the 110 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries backup Chris Johnson posted Sunday. Andre Ellington should be back next week, and rookie David Johnson looks like a keeper.

Then there’s the defense, which accounted for two touchdowns and a safety Sunday and has, outside of a few screen passes in Week 1, been every bit as good as last year’s bunch. Six different players have already intercepted at least one pass.

Now, it is important to note that the Cardinals still have not played a team with any kind of playoff dreams, as the Saints, Bears and 49ers are a combined 1-8 on the season. But as anyone will tell you, anything can happen on any given Sunday, and the Cardinals taking care of business in emphatic fashion is still worthy of note.

No doubt they will experience some adversity over the next 14 weeks (and 13 games). They will face off against tougher opponents, have to deal with a key injury or two, and have some bounces not go their way. Chances are they’ll even fall behind in a game, which is something only the Cardinals can say has not happened yet this season.

But their formula for success appears to be repeatable and sustainable. Also, improvable.

“That’s something you always strive for and maybe you never get,” QB Carson Palmer said of having a pretty game. “You always want perfection.”

Palmer pointed to penalties and an interception he threw toward the end of the first half as things that were not pretty and need to be fixed.

“There are mistakes all over the place,” he continued. “You are never going to walk out of a game saying that every play was absolutely perfect. That’s the mentality.

“We’re going to get yelled at on Monday and we’re going to get harped on on so many silly things that we did. We’ll just continue to strive to not make those mistakes and maybe you never see perfection. You’ve got to continue to work. It’s three games. It means nothing. We’re 3-0. It doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to work.”

And therein lies the rub for this team.

The Cardinals started 3-0 last season and were 9-1 before all the quarterbacks got hurt and the wheels fell off. Any thoughts of the team getting a big head or resting on any laurels can probably be dispelled based on that alone. Last week, Arians told his team they ‘ain’t blank,’ and he essentially repeated that message when talking to his players after the win over the 49ers.

“Good job, hell of a win,” he said. “That’s all it was. That’s all it was. A hell of a win. And we ain’t [expletive] yet.

“But we’re starting to smell a little better.”

The Cardinals know all too well how quickly they can go from smelling like roses to smelling like, well, “blank.” No doubt much of the talk this week will focus on continuing to respect the process, not about how good they are.

It actually began Sunday after the dust settled on the win over the 49ers.

“We are feeling really good, but at the end of the day we’ve got, what, this is Week 3, so 14 more weeks to go,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have to make sure we stay the course to the process. We obviously see the process works and just have to take it a day at a time and one game at a time.

“We defintely have something special in this locker room, we just have to make sure that we keep our heads down and don’t listen to the outside noise. Just keep believing in the guys in this locker room.”

“Honestly, like B.A. told us, we’re just kind of keeping our heads down,” safety Deone Bucannon added. “We want to go under the radar and have people underestimate us because we’re a fantastic team and we’ve got awesome talent. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much talent we have. We’re just looking forward to the next day.”

That’s the approach the players need to take, as any kind of let up could lead to disastrous results. The second you think you’ve arrived is the very time you’ll take a step back. Media and fans, on the other hand, are allowed to ponder just how good this team is and can be, along with how far they could go.

It’s still very early in the season and there is plenty that has to be learned, but it’s probably safe to say the Cardinals are once again one of the NFC’s better teams.

And whether or not anyone outside of Arizona agrees is of little import.

“We don’t care about getting respect from anyone in the league,” Peterson said. “All we have are the guys in this locker room. We have 53 men that we believe in and eight men on the practice squad, if their number gets called, and I believe one of the best coaching staffs in the game.

“So we’re going to be prepared each and every Sunday, and we’ll see if the national accolades or the national publicity comes, but honestly, we really don’t care.”

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