Cardinals eye returning to practice strong after bye week, finish regular season hot

Dana Scott
Arizona Republic
Nov 21, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury during pregame warmups prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals at Lumen Field.

Kliff Kingsbury lives by the mantra that the reward for good work is more work.

Kingsbury told reporters in October, "I don't have a life during football season," and Chandler Jones described the Cardinals coach as an "overtime worker" after they beat the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 21.

"There’s been times where I’ve walked in on Kliff and he’s watching teams that we’re going to play in three weeks. I’m like, 'Kliff. We don’t play them until…'"

Kingsbury's obsessive preparation style has seemingly worked to lead the Arizona Cardinals to one of its best years in franchise history.

If the Cardinals (9-2 overall, 4-0) finish the final full regular season month by winning its four games in December, they would be 5-0 in the NFC West and clinch their first division title since 2015 if they defeat second-place Los Angeles Rams (7-4, 1-2) at home on Dec. 13 for a season sweep.

Arizona hosts its final regular season game against last-place Seattle (3-7, 1-2) on Jan. 9.

The Cardinals already swept third-place San Francisco 49ers (6-5, 1-3) on Nov. 7. Even if L.A. and Seattle win each of their remaining three NFC West games, and San Francisco wins their last two, the Niners won't catch the Cardinals if they lose to the Seahawks in January for a 4-2 finish in the division.

The Cardinals also have the chance to earn a first-round playoff bye if they end December winning against the Bears, Rams, at Detroit Lions (0-10-1) on Dec. 19, and Indianapolis Colts (6-6) on Christmas, and at Dallas Cowboys (7-4) on Jan. 2.

But Kingsbury isn't fixated on his NFC West position and first-round byes as much as the Cardinals' next opponent Chicago Bears (4-7) this Sunday, Arizona's first game following their bye week through Thanksgiving.

In November, James Conner talked about the importance of winning in November "when it gets cold outside" to begin solidifying a team's playoff position. Kingsbury said last week he's content about the Cardinals flying atop the division through November.

He told reporters on Monday he's ready to get back to work at practice and play at Chicago's freezing Soldier Field, where the forecast reads 37 degrees with 16 mile per hour winds on Sunday. That will be the second-coldest climate location the Cardinals will play in this season besides Seattle, as they look to build another hot streak since their went 7-0.

Nov 14, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury during action against the Carolina Panthers in the first half at State Farm Stadium.

"Everybody has got to play outside in December football. We played in Seattle our last game, and I think it was in the 40s. So, we know it will be colder than we’re used to, but that’s part of playing in this league," Kingsbury said about playing in Chicago.

The Cardinals returning to full strength starts with their offense's best one-two punch in Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins coming back from their ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively, after missing their past three games.

"I’m hopeful. I’ll leave it at that at this point because I want to see them move around and practice full-speed and see where they’re at and their comfort level and their confidence," Kingsbury said.

It also would tremendously help if their offensive line is healthier, including starters at left guard Justin Pugh (right calf) and right guard Max Garcia (Achilles).

The bye week was key for their recovery and Kingsbury will test them in practice.

"There’s definitely a lot of juice. I think guys are refreshed, rejuvenated," Kingsbury said. "They understand where we’re at in the season and what we have coming up and what’s in front of us. You feel that energy in the building, so I’m excited to get them out there today, move around, get our stuff installed and try to have a great week at practice."

There's a lot of questions about how they've improved with many moving and falling parts and distractions along the way. That includes their injuries, their NFL-worst COVID-19 issues, the trade for Zach Ertz on Oct. 15, and Oklahoma adding Kingsbury to its new head coach wanted list.

The first answers could be blowing in Chicago's wind. The Cardinals could assert themselves by beating the Bears and stay in the win column as they gear up for their first playoff appearance under Kingsbury.

"I think just consistency over these last six and being the best team that we can be moving forward. I think our best football is out in front of us," Kingsbury said.

Notes

Cardinals defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence is returning from the injured reserve on Monday. Lawrence can start practicing and the team can activate him to the 53-man roster at any time in the next 21 days or at the conclusion of the three-week period.

Baltimore Ravens announced Monday they signed former Cardinals backup QB Chris Streveler to their practice squad. In a perceptive swap, Streveler was released by the Cardinals on Nov. 23, after they signed former Ravens backup QB Trace McSorley to its active roster the day prior. McSorley was also on Baltimore's practice squad this season.

Have tips for us? Reach the reporter at dana.scott@azcentral.com or at 480-486-4721. Follow his Twitter @iam_DanaScott.

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