Arizona Cardinals (Getty)
The Gatorade on coach Ken Whisenhunt's clothes hadn't even dried last Sunday when he established a theme for the week after one of the team's biggest accomplishments in decades. Enjoy the victory, Whisenhunt told his players after they clinched the NFC West title, but know that improvement must continue if the club is going to make it beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Ken Whisenhunt wasn't diminishing the accomplishment of winning the franchise's first division title since 1975. That assures the Cardinals of a home playoff game, their first since 1947.
"I'm excited to have this (championship) hat," Whisenhunt said. "It's a good day. But now we have to get our focus back on improving our seed and building on our team and things we can improve in the next three weeks."
For long-time Cardinals such as strong safety Adrian Wilson, last Sunday's victory was an emotional one. Wilson at first tried to paint it as just another victory, but then he thought longer about all the tough years. He joined the team in 2001 and has the longest tenure of any Cardinal.
The team's best record in his career is 8-8 and that came last year.
"Emotionally, there is a lot you can think back on," he said, "the teams that you have played on, the players that you have played with who didn't have the opportunity to witness this."
Wilson knows first-hand how hard it is to get to this point and that there are no guarantees of returning. That was in his mind Sunday night even as he was wearing a championship hat and T-shirt.
"Like we said in the locker room, this is just the first step to get into the playoffs," he said. "Play home games and move on, that's what we want to do, not just a one and done."
The Cardinals know they must play better if they are to make a run in the final three games, and especially in the next two weeks against the Vikings and Patriots.
The defense has been inconsistent, the running game non-existent and quarterback Kurt Warner has committed eight turnovers in the past four games. There are plenty of rough edges to smooth, but Wilson likes the Cardinals' chances.
"It's been a long road and we've had some bad teams, and this is the best team that we've had," he said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He likes his hat. A lot."
-- Team president Michael Bidwill, on his father, Bill, wearing a division championship hat.
TRENDING: Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the team's first-round draft pick, seems to be improving weekly. He has three interceptions in the past four games, including one he returned 99 yards for a touchdown last week. Coaches aren't afraid to leave him in man coverage; his speed can cover up for some occasional mistakes.
While Rodgers-Cromartie is peaking, the guy he replaced, Eric Green, is descending weekly. Green has gone from starter, to nickel back, to fourth corner, and last week, to inactive.
--QB Kurt Warner has 347 completions this season, breaking Neil Lomax's club record of 345 set in 1984. Warner also has passed for a touchdown in 21 consecutive games. Warner now has 4,020 yards passing, the fifth-highest total in league history after 13 games.
--WR Anquan Boldin now has 1,004 receiving yards. He's the first Cardinals receiver to record four seasons of at least 1,000 yards. Boldin and teammate Larry Fitzgerald both have passed the 1,000-yard mark. Teammate Steve Breaston needs 212 yards to reach it.
--RB Tim Hightower has rushed for 10 touchdowns this year, a team record for a rookie. Hightower and Ronald Moore shared the old record of nine. Moore set that mark in 1993.
--K Neil Rackers recorded his fourth straight season of scoring at least 100 points. That's a franchise record.
--LB Gerald Hayes has 11 tackles and two forced fumbles against the Rams. The two forced fumbles equaled his total in his first 70 NFL games.