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Dan Bickley

Arizona Cardinals’ first impression against Redskins was a debacle

Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks argues a call with referee Greg Gautreaux (80) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A new season begins with a sickening sound.

Splat.

Like a bird flying into a glass wall.

The soundtrack to a new era of football couldn’t have been worse. A renamed stadium went eerily silent in the second quarter. A refurbished team drew a chorus of boos before halftime. And nearing the end of the Redskins’ 24-6 demolition of the Cardinals on Sunday, a once-passionate fan base was in need of aspirin and antacid.

The Red Sea had become the Dead Sea.

“Obviously, no one wants to start the season like this,” quarterback Sam Bradford said.

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this was a debacle. The Cardinals couldn’t stop the run. They couldn’t move the football. Their new head coach was taken to school by Redskins’ boss Jay Gruden, who systematically dismantled Steve Wilks’ defense.

After 30 minutes, the Cardinals had more penalty yards (37) than yards from scrimmage (36). The Redskins had more touchdowns (three) than the Cardinals had first downs (two). The visitors had twice as many first downs (22) than the Cardinals had passing yards (11).

The Cardinals didn’t show much during the preseason. Problem is, they didn’t show much when it counted, either. They deserved to be booed as they left the field. And when Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath took the stage for the first halftime show of the season, he encountered a stadium full of dazed fans.

It made for the most difficult musical challenge since the Blues Brothers performed in a country bar shielded by chicken wire.

“There’s no reason to panic,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “But this is not OK. This is not acceptable.”

The sucker-punch performance hit hard because no one knew what to expect from the 2018 debut. And because the preseason carried the unmistakable scent of optimism.

Broadcaster Dave Pasch said the coaching staff was the best from top to bottom that he’s ever seen in Arizona. That opinion was shared by many who raved at the new discipline, energy and attention to detail flowing from training camp.

Until the defense committed three consecutive penalties near the end of the first half, helping the Redskins score their third touchdown with a 92-yard drive.

“There are some things that we definitely got to go back and correct, and that’s going to start with me,” Wilks said. “(But) as I told the guys: One game doesn’t define our season.”

Let’s hope Wilks is right about that. But one game can set an ominous tone, especially for a rookie head coach in the NFL. And it will fuel the skeptics who never thought much of this team in the first place.

During the preseason, the Cardinals seemed to mock the moneymakers in Las Vegas, who had the Cardinals’ over/under for wins at 5.5. Larry Fitzgerald advised fans to bet the over if they wanted to enjoy a really nice Christmas. And when the Cardinals gave David Johnson a contract extension on Saturday night, it was the perfect preamble to a new season of hope.

Johnson’s new deal reinforced a powerful message inside the locker room. It confirmed Michael Bidwill’s status as one of the most user-friendly owners in the NFL, a man who will reward talent, loyalty and those who serve him well.

But the team spoiled that message on Sunday with a pathetic performance across the board, including Johnson, who dropped three passes. It proved once again that preseason football is a function of greed and not to be trusted.

“We felt like we were in a much better position,” Bradford said. “We felt like we were going to come out here and play much better than we did. But it’s one game. We’ve got to figure out a way to bounce back. Got to figure out a way to watch the film (Monday) and figure out exactly what needs be corrected. We can’t let this game beat us twice. We’ve got to figure out a way to just stay positive and keep moving.”

It won’t be easy. Wilks is tasked with an arduous assignment entering a road game against the heavily-favored Rams, and his honeymoon expired before halftime of his official head coaching debut. The general manager must explain why he felt comfortable with this group of wide receivers, where those not named Larry Fitzgerald combined for one catch and four yards. Meanwhile, water coolers will be surrounded by disgruntled fans who have already seen enough of Bradford.

By the fourth quarter, Josh Rosen was already trending on Twitter in the greater Phoenix area.

The obvious disclaimer comes here: It’s only one game.

Try telling that to the sullen and soured fans who streamed out of State Farm Stadium, the ones who fear that’s more of a threat than promise.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier