GLENDALE - In degree of difficulty, beating the St. Louis Rams is the equivalent of doing a cannonball at a swimming pool, but the Cardinals have a history of making the easy look difficult and vice versa.
Not Sunday. Instead of playing down to the level of a depleted and inferior opponent, the Cardinals put in a workmanlike effort to win 31-10 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
In the past two years, the Cardinals usually have played better when there was something on the line besides pride. On Sunday, that something was a place in franchise history.
The Cardinals earned their 10th victory, the most they have won in a season since they were 10-4 in 1976 and still in St. Louis. For some context, consider that the team has lost at least 10 games in a season 18 times since the country's bicentennial.
"I'm very proud of my team," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "We got off to a 1-2 start, and Jimmy Johnson actually said to stick a fork in us, we're done. Well, we're not done quite yet."
The Cardinals' wins total have improved in each of coach Ken Whisenhunt's three seasons, from eight to nine to at least 10 victories.
"It's another milestone," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "It shows the progress we're making, that we're doing the right things and that Coach Whiz and his staff have come in and done a great job."
Double-digit wins are nice, but Warner knows the satisfaction from achieving that will be fleeting. After a Super Bowl appearance last season, expectations have risen beyond just making the playoffs again.
"As great as 10 wins is, I think what we'll remember this season by is what we do come playoff time," Warner said.
The Cardinals were coming off a lackluster effort in Detroit last week, when they blew a 17-0 halftime lead before winning in the final minutes. On Sunday, the Cardinals were more efficient.
Warner was sharp when he had protection, completing 24 of 38 passes for 313 yards, including 196 yards and two touchdowns in the second quarter.
The Rams (1-14) didn't give up, although they had plenty of reasons to. Of their projected 22 starters from the season opener, only 13 were available Sunday. That didn't include running back Steven Jackson, the league's second-leading rusher, who missed the game because of a back problem.
The Rams also were depleted in the secondary, and in the second quarter, the Cardinals spread the field with receivers and took advantage. They scored on three long drives, with Warner throwing touchdown passes to Larry Fitzgerald and Early Doucet.
Warner's 18-yard touchdown pass to Doucet was his 100th as a Cardinal and the first for Doucet. It remains to be determined who gets the ball.
The biggest play of the half was a 45-yard pass to Steve Breaston, the Cardinals' longest pass play of the season. Warner distributed the ball to nearly every Cardinals player eligible to catch it. Anquan Boldin was his favorite and finished with eight receptions for 116 yards.
"We know the talent on this football team," Warner said. "We know we can play with anybody, at any given time, anywhere, if we play up to our potential. That's going to be the key."
The Rams couldn't keep pace, not with rookie Keith Null at quarterback and with Jackson on the sideline. The Cardinals intercepted three of Null's passes and sacked him four times.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson had an interception and one of those sacks, which placed him in an exclusive club. He is one of only 10 NFL players to record at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career.
Wilson played down the achievement, but a game ball rested on the floor of his locker.
"I'll find somewhere to put it," he deadpanned.
It wasn't a perfect game by the Cardinals but a competent one.
"To increase our win total every year is something that's significant for our team," Whisenhunt said. "It shows improvement every year, which is not very easy to do in this league."