GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a perfect world, this is pretty much how Bruce Arians would draw it up.
His team, at home, got two touchdown passes from quarterback Carson Palmer, one touchdown from his defense, and some outstanding special teams play in a 27-24 win over the Houston Texans.
“It was an outstanding team victory for us,” the coach said after the game. “All phases played as hard as they could possibly play. Obviously there were some mistakes, but we were able to overcome them on both sides.”
The win improved the Cardinals’ record to 5-4 on the season, and the team is still very much part of the NFC playoff picture with just less than half the season remaining. A road date with one-win Jacksonville awaits, which makes it easy to imagine them being 6-4 seven days from now.
And at that point, the playoffs would be a very real possibility.
But that’s for another day. Sunday was about the Cardinals putting together their second consecutive solid performance against another struggling team. Two weeks ago it was the Atlanta Falcons who rolled into town and left with a loss, and this time it was the Texans. Both teams were popular Super Bowl picks in the preseason; both teams are likely already making offseason plans.
Such is the small margin of error most NFL teams go to battle with, meaning every game brings with it a Gollum-style level of preciousness. Home games are especially key, and the Cardinals are now 4-1 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
But it was not just the win that should have fans feeling pretty good about the team, because the “how” is every bit as important as the “what” in this case. Once again Palmer rebounded from an early turnover to put together a real solid effort. Once again, the running game was there to provide balance. Once again, special teams was excellent. Once again, the defense performed at an elite level.
What was new was the contributions from Andre Roberts and Rob Housler, who combined for nine receptions, 129 yards and two touchdowns. What was new was the Cardinals being able to overcome their own mistakes. To wit: The Cardinals lost the turnover battle by a three to one margin, yet still won the game.
“It doesn’t happen very often in this league,” Arians said. “It says you got some resilient guys who trust each other.”
This team is certainly far from perfect. While they were able to win the game while losing the turnover battle, the fact is the Cardinals still cough the football up too often.
“You can’t give teams short fields on turnovers,” receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “That’s one thing I would love to be able to tighten up would be the turnovers.”
The team also struggled to convert on third down, only making good on three of 10 attempts. That has been a constant this year, and it’s something that will need to change if the Cardinals are to have success against some of the better teams they are set to face.
However, when taking a broad look at the season, signs of gradual improvement are there. There is still a ways to go, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be capable of winning while failing to play your best football.
“This 5-4 is a good taste in our mouth but it’s also a bad taste,” linebacker John Abraham said. “We feel there’s a couple games we left out there we should have won.”
The great coach Bill Parcells once said, “You are what your record says you are.”
If that’s true, then the Arizona Cardinals are a 5-4 team. But given how they’ve played their last two games, it appears they are a different team than the one that started the season.
Maybe — just maybe — they’re a complete one.