State Farm Stadium will clamor for Rosen if Bradford fails on Sunday
Sports fans have a voice. It’s louder than ever. It rarely equates to real power. With one notable exception:
The sonic boom of a town turning on its starting quarterback.
It happened Thursday night in Cleveland, setting the stage for Baker Mayfield’s sensational debut. It could happen Sunday in Glendale, where the clunky Cardinals are 0-2 and Josh Rosen stands in the on-deck circle.
The vibe in the stands will frame the game on the field. The soundtrack will be fascinating.
Mayfield’s performance was the stuff of legends, raising hopes and expectations in Ohio and Arizona. The No. 1 overall pick delivered the Browns’ first win in 635 days, rallying his team from a 14-point deficit. He galvanized a region defined by failure, opening up hearts and beer fridges alike.
Valley fans are yearning for a similar experience, where our NFL team has been adrift for too long. Disgruntled voices are being heard. Rookie head coach Steve Wilks ended a recent practice by piping in audio of booing fans, the sound his players heard when leaving the field after a Week 1 loss.
It might be an effective appeal to his team’s collective pride. It might be a goofy gimmick from a coaching staff desperate for validation. Either way, the forecast is obvious to both sides.
If Sam Bradford doesn’t lead the team on immediate, sustained drives in the early going, the Cardinals will hear the wrath of angry fans. It will be an encore to what happened Thursday night in Cleveland. It will be the civic outcry for Rosen, the only high-profile rookie quarterback yet to take the field in 2018. The kid hell-bent on proving he’s better than all the rest, especially Mayfield.
Even in a worst-case scenario, it won’t sound like Cleveland, where a cacophony of boos accompanied every Tyrod Taylor incompletion. That’s because State Farm Stadium will also be inhabited by copious amounts of Bears fans, transients and visitors alike. They will cheer whenever Arizona fails, and the mixture of emotions will be disorienting.
Here’s the rub: No matter how good Rosen might be, the Browns are still better than the Cardinals. Their first two games were noble efforts and not dumpster fires. They were good enough to respond to Mayfield’s lead and the energy he infused.
That represents the untold story of Cleveland’s victory, how his teammates responded with renewed focus and fervor once Mayfield entered the game. But they weren’t showing a preference in quarterbacks. They were reacting to the revolution in the stands, feeding off the positive energy from a fan base been lustily demanded a succession at quarterback and cheered wildly once it happened.
Granted, it happened because of injury. But when it did, everything changed for the better.
That could happen against the Bears. Mayfield proved that rookie quarterbacks don’t all come with glass ceilings. Not all need grooming, seasoning and mentoring. Any coach who insists otherwise is overstuffed with self-importance.
Rosen is smarter than Mayfield, has a better arm and carries nearly the same swagger. He is confident enough to seize the moment and not worry about personal survival. And the shifting public opinion inside the stadium will certainly play a minor role in what transpires against the Bears.
Owners, general managers and coaches like to scoff at public pressure. They know better than to let fans influence their weighty decisions. But no football team wants to be embarrassed three weeks in a row. No owner wants to hear his team booed by the paying customers, especially in Arizona, where Michael Bidwill has turned around a once-fumbling organization.
They will all hear your voices on Sunday. They are hoping for the best and bracing for the worst. They will gauge Bradford’s play and your mood on the fly, in a game pivotal for their credibility and our collective faith. But the Cardinals also know this:
Once they hand Rosen the keys, there’s no turning back.
Ready? Me, too.