TEMPE - Focusing on the entire picture of a football season can be difficult once you notice the large smudge in the corner. Your eyes lock on that, ignoring the attractiveness of the larger portrait.

For the Cardinals, Thursday's 17-3 loss to the Rams is the flaw that causes us to look past the four victories that came before it.

Are the Cardinals as bad as they looked Thursday night? Were they as good as the 4-0 record suggested?

The answers are no and probably not.

But they are 4-1, a start no one predicted, and they have put themselves into position to contend for a playoff berth.

The question now is if the Cardinals can sustain this level of success. It's unrealistic to think they are going to win four of every five games. They are not a 12-win team.

But they could win 10, and that would put them in contention for the NFC West title or a wild card berth.

That means going 6-5 the rest of the season. That goal is attainable.

What the first five games have taught us about this team is that its margin for error is as thin as a fingernail.

Offensively, the Cardinals aren't going to amass miles of yardage and piles of points. There are going to be lots of low-scoring, close games.

Opportunities for big plays will be there, but the Cardinals can't afford to miss on more than one or two a game.

That was part of the problem in St. Louis. The Cardinals had chances early, but they missed on potentially long pass plays to tight end Rob Housler and receivers Andre Roberts and Larry Fitzgerald.

The Cardinals were not an offensive juggernaut in the first four games. They haven't gained 300 yards on offense in any game this season. But they were timely in their success through the first four games.

Kolb and the offense clicked enough to score late in games against Seattle, New England and Miami. The running game showed signs of life late in the blowout victory over the Eagles.

But the offense has not been able to sustain success. The Cardinals have tried to run but with little success. Production from the passing game has been unreliable, and now Kolb's protection is breaking down.

Defensively, the Cardinals have played as well as expected. They gave up big plays the past two games, but looking at the big picture, the Rams scored 17 points and completed just seven passes.

That's a winning effort most weeks.

The schedule appears to become more difficult over the second half of the season, but then again, the first month of the season provided evidence of the foolishness of penciling in wins and losses.

Up next

• What: Bills at Cardinals

• When: 1:05 p.m., next Sunday

• TV; radio: Ch 13; 1290-AM