ARIZONA CARDINALS

Blaine Gabbert should keep playing after first Cardinals start

Nov 19, 2017, 2:39 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2017, 11:56 am
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert (7) throws against the Houston Texans during the first...
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert (7) throws against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Blaine Gabbert is a long way from asserting his place as the Cardinals’ quarterback of the future, but he has something to build on after a 31-21 loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday at NRG Stadium in his first start for Arizona.

The Cardinals scored 21 points against an-injury decimated defense that was missing defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Whitney Mercilus, among others. The Cardinals also scored both of their first-half touchdowns off turnovers, giving Gabbert very short fields with which to work.

Gabbert couldn’t control any of those variables. What he did control was how he performed in those situations.

Two plays after Cardinals safety Budda Baker recovered a fumble at the Texans’ 17-yard line, Gabbert threw to receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s back shoulder, away from the defender, for a 20-yard score that tied the game at 7-7 at 7:20 of the second quarter. The ball was perfectly placed.

After Patrick Peterson’s interception gave Arizona the ball at the Texans’ 15-yard line, Gabbert led tight end Ricky Seals-Jones on a curl pattern for an 11-yard TD and a 14-7 lead before a Houston field goal made it a four-point Cardinals advantage at halftime.

Gabbert completed 11 of 14 passes for 120 yards in the first half with two TDs and a 142.0 passer rating. Unlike his counterpart, Tom Savage, Houston’s backup in place of injured Deshaun Watson, Gabbert did not turn the ball over — a critical element in any game, but doubly so on the road — until late in the game when the Cardinals were trailing by 10 and needed to make plays.

The Cardinals had a litany of issues on both sides of the ball, but Gabbert didn’t have much help from his receivers, who dropped too many passes yet again, leading coach Bruce Arians to promise, “we’ll be looking at some different receivers next week.”

Gabbert didn’t have much help the running game either, which managed just 48 yards on 18 carries. That put more pressure on the passing game, but he still finished by completing 22 of 34 passes for 257 yards and a career-high three touchdowns with two interceptions for a passer rating of 92.4. He still led the Cardinals on a six-play, 51-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter after Houston had taken the lead. Gabbert capped that drive with a 28-yard pass to Seals-Jones.

“I thought Blaine played his ass off,” Arians said. “He probably had over a hundred quarterback rating until the end of the game. We didn’t make any plays for him. We dropped balls, we let a guy take the ball away from us on an interception that should have been a completion. That last completion was probably his only bad throw of the day.”

With five games left in the season, there is no reason for the Cardinals to go back to Drew Stanton even if he is healthy enough to play — even if Arians feels a sense of loyalty. Sunday’s loss dropped the Cardinals to 4-6. While it’s unlikely a 10-6 team with five conferences losses is going to make the NFC playoffs this season (the NFC Wild Card leaders have three losses overall), it’s even less likely that the injury-ravaged Cardinals are going to win six straight.

Stanton isn’t under contract next season and he doesn’t factor in the franchise’s future. While the Cardinals must draft a quarterback — a move they have unwisely delayed the last three seasons — Gabbert deserves a chance to show he can be the guy over an extended sample size.

Arians has raved about his ability to pick up the offense so quickly, and Gabbert’s six previous seasons of experience at least make him an interesting option. The former first-round draft pick (No. 10 overall in 2011) has absorbed a lot of critical information and logged a lot of critical snaps.

Give him another start. The present is all but irrelevant for the Cardinals now. It’s time to take a peek into one version of the future.

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