GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Overcoming obvious emotions he feared would arise before the game, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was all smiles after Arizona beat the Indianapolis Colts 40-11 at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.
After Arians shed some tears during pregame warm-ups and greeted opposing coach Chuck Pagano and several Indianapolis players, the Cardinals took care of business against their coach's former team. Arians was the AP NFL Coach of the Year in 2012 while serving the Colts' interim boss as Pagano was undergoing leukemia treatment.
The Cardinals (7-4) earned their fourth consecutive win, and they are now fully engaged in the conversation for one of the two NFC wild-card playoff berths.
Arizona's defense maintained its recent dominating form. The Cardinals limited quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts' offense to 239 total yards. Luck passed for 163 yards and one touchdown, but he threw an interception that linebacker Karlos Dansby returned 22 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
Arians, who guided the Colts to a 9-3 record last season, might be in line to earn another Coach of the Year honor with his new team.
After beating up on the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, teams that had a combined 5-25 record, Arians finally got a signature win by defeating the Colts (7-4).
"I don't think there's any doubt. Everybody wanted to see us play a quality football team," he said. "I thought we have been playing quality football teams, but this is definitely one that's in first place and we're going to play another one next week (the Philadelphia Eagles). We've got to be able to do it on the road, because probably in the playoffs we'll be on the road and we've got to learn to win on the road.
While Arians is already talking about the playoffs, Pagano has to wonder what happened to a Colts team that strung together victories over the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos earlier this season. Is this the same team?
"Doesn't look like it right now," Pagano said, "but we are going to figure out a way to get back to being that team that we were before. We're obviously missing some guys that (were not) out there when we won those games. Again, we make no excuses. We have to get it fixed, and we have to get it fixed in a hurry."
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer completed 26 of 37 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns, both of them to Larry Fitzgerald in the first half when Arizona built a 27-3 lead.
Halftime deficits are nothing new for the Colts. They trailed badly in each of their past four games, getting outscored 94-12 in first halves in November.
On Sunday, it was overwhelmingly ugly early.
The Cardinals outgained the Colts 274 yards to 58 through the first two quarters, and all Indianapolis could muster was a 27-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
"It's the same. It's embarrassing," Luck said. "I don't know if I can put my thumb on it, but I think it's a lack of execution. They executed, we didn't. Credit to them. They beat our butts fair and square. So, a lack of execution."
What the Cardinals said
"Identity-wise, we're a defensive football team ... but nothing says we can't develop into an offensive team. We're not there yet. We've got a lot of work to do and a long way to go. (The defensive players) lead the way, and we want to get to the point where you look at both sides of the ball and you don't know which side is playing better." -- Quarterback Carson Palmer.
What the Colts said
"Trust me, that's the million dollar question. I can't answer that. I don't know, so don't ever ask me that again. I don't know. If I knew, we wouldn't be starting off slow. Come on now. Next question." -- Defensive end Cory Redding, asked to explain the Colts' slow starts. Indianapolis was outscored 94-12 in the first half of its past four games.
What we learned about the Cardinals
1. The offense is starting to finally come together. Quarterback Carson Palmer had a second consecutive productive game, and the Cardinals once again did not commit a turnover. Palmer isn't forcing balls to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Instead, he is taking what the defense gives him, and wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Rob Housler are the beneficiaries. The running game, meanwhile, produced 120 yards Sunday and was effective when it needed to be. Rashard Mendenhall, who battled knee and toe problems most of the year, finally is starting to look healthy. So is Fitzgerald, who dealt with hamstring issues much of the year.
2. If the Cardinals have a lead at halftime, they will be tough to beat. Their defense pins its ears back, makes solid adjustments behind coordinator Todd Bowles and feeds off each other. Bowles said wins like Sunday's make his defenders crave success all the more and make them work harder in practice. The energy level, he said, is off the charts. That might not be good news for the Philadelphia Eagles, whom the Cardinals visit Sunday.
What we learned about the Colts
1. The slow starts are not just a concern; they are starting to eat away at the team. Indianapolis was outscored by a combined 94-12 in the first half of the past four games. Coach Chuck Pagano promises a solution is forthcoming, but what can it be? Injured wide receiver Reggie Wayne isn't coming back. The running game won't be able to pave the way if quarterback Andrew Luck's only real target is tight end Coby Fleener. Patience might be the key, but that is a tough word to embrace in the NFL.
2. Trent Richardson still has a long way to go. Pagano said in the days leading up to Sunday's game that the running back was starting to turn the corner, that he was primed to have a breakout game. It didn't happen for several reasons against the Cardinals: Arizona has the league's second-ranked rush defense, and the Cardinals jumped on the Colts quickly, forcing Luck to beat them through the air. Indianapolis needs Richardson to get it going -- and soon. He rushed seven times for just 15 yards Sunday. That is not good enough any week.