CHICAGO — In most cases, anyone sending you to Chicago in December is not doing you any favors.
But the NFL unintentionally gave the Cardinals a huge gift by scheduling them to play the Bears at Soldier Field Sunday, a week after the Cardinals enjoyed a long Thanksgiving holiday without a game.
Against many other teams, the Cardinals would have lost given the way they played Sunday. The offense, in particular, was so rusty it creaked.
It was a good time to play a bad team, and the Bears held up their end of that bargain. The result was a 33-22 victory that kept the Cardinals (10-2) at the top of the NFL standings.
The victory wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't pretty. There are lots of loose threads to pick, ones the Cardinals have to snip before next Monday night's game against the Rams.
The Cardinals missed tackles, throws and holes. They jumped offside at terrible times. They took a delay of game penalty after a timeout. They struggled to stop the run. They roughed the punter after an important defensive stand. Coach Kliff Kingsbury even took an inadvertent shot to his mouth from his own player on the sideline.
But those flaws are barely noticeable if you step back and look at the tapestry of this season.
The Cardinals have the best record in the NFL. They are 7-0 on the road, and every one of those victories was by double digits. They won Sunday on a windy, rainy, chilly day that would have caused previous Cardinals teams to melt.
"It's what you play this game for, to be in the No. 1 position," said linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had 13 tackles and two sacks. "We're trying to peak at the right time. It's not about playing good football up until this point. It's about continuing to get better, continuing to refine and detail our process and make sure we're playing our best football at the end of the season."
The Cardinals can play better than they did Sunday. They have on most Sundays this season. They will over the final five games of the season. They're good, they're deep and they are getting healthy.
Quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins played for the first time since suffering injuries against the Packers on Oct. 28. Hopkins scored in the first quarter. Murray passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more, yet it looked and felt like a so-so performance from him.
That's how good he is, and can be, as the Cardinals prepare for the stretch run. Mostly because of the weather, Murray attempted just 15 passes, completing 11, for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
After missing three games, he would have preferred more throws. "But another week of practice, and I'll be fine," he said.
The Cardinals gained just 257 yards, but they didn't commit any turnovers. That was an impressive accomplishment on a blustery day, especially given that Bears quarterback Andy Dalton had four passes intercepted.
All four times, the Cardinals took possession inside the Bears' 30-yard line. That made it easy to commute to the end zone, and they converted those four turnovers into three touchdowns and a field goal.
"We knew it would be grimy," Kingsbury said, "wet, windy, cold. But I thought our defense played tremendous, getting those takeaways, giving us short fields on offense."
But the Cardinals, Kingsbury said, were "disjointed offensively. We didn't play as well as we could have. Couldn't throw it as well as we liked, but proud of the effort. Proud of the win."
It's the kind of games that coaches, in their private moments, say they love the most. The Cardinals played hard, just not always well. But on the road, in unfamiliar weather, at least to them, they persevered.
There will be a lot to correct this week, but it's enjoyable work when you're 10-2.
That's why there were so many smiling Cardinals faces afterward. Safety Budda Baker, for instance, said he made the rock-a-bye baby motion after his 77-yard interception return because his girlfriend is expecting their daughter any moment.
"It's a blessing to have Michael Bidwill as an owner," Baker said. "I actually flew in with him on the private jet so I could have wi-fi just in case my girlfriend was starting labor, we would turn around."
Kingsbury could smile while chided himself for calling a direct snap to running back James Conner on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter instead of having Murray try to account for a fifth touchdown.
"It's probably not very smart at times to take it out of his hands," Kingsbury said. "But we've had success doing it a couple times. I wish I could have that one play call back."
It was another correctable error in an afternoon field with them. But to steal a line from the late, great orator, Dennis Green, at least the Cardinals missteps didn't let the Bears off the hook.
Every week's effort won't be masterpiece, but what good teams do is show up and put in the work.
The Cardinals did that Sunday. They are who we think they are, the best team in the NFL, one that will benefit from spending a rainy, chilly December day in Chicago.
The offense took advantage three times, scoring touchdowns and dropping the Bears to 4-8 on the season.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cardinals are Super Bowl contenders, and they can improve.