Cardinals providing renewed hope even after season-opening tie

Sep 8, 2019, 7:55 PM | Updated: 9:08 pm
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with his players during the second half of an NF...
Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury talks with his players during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)
(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ties are disgusting. They’re participation trophies. They’re Fascist, evil and have no place in the NFL.

Fortunately, there are exceptions.

The Cardinals’ 27-27 draw is not what you want to feel after spending an emotional Sunday afternoon with your favorite football team. But this one was perfectly acceptable.

Remember how that awful 6-6 tie against the Seahawks in 2016 felt like a loss?

This one was the opposite. This one felt like a victory.

A victory that no one will claim.

“I’m just going to go home and … I don’t know. I’ve never tied before,” rookie quarterback Kyler Murray said. “It’s better than a loss. That’s all I can say.”

This tie should’ve been a loss. That much is certain. The Lions were considered a benign Week 1 opponent because daffiness is in their DNA. They do stuff like they did on Sunday, throwing deep when they should be running out the clock, calling timeouts that negate game-clinching plays.

But that’s not our problem.

This tie works because the Cardinals were brutally bad in the first half. They gained 58 yards on 29 plays. Their decision to unveil a top secret offense against the Lions, after showing very little in the preseason, was backfiring badly on rookie head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

To his credit, Kingsbury owned all of it.

“I did a poor job early,” Kingsbury said. “Tried to be too cute, over-creative. I think sometimes when you have all summer to draw stuff up, you kind of get out of your comfort zone. And I think it affected our quarterback early. I wasn’t getting him in a rhythm.”

Kingsbury was asked what made him change his strategy, and wouldn’t relent.

“Because it was three quarters of the worst offense I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kingsbury said. “And it was my fault. Like I said, bad play-calling, just trying to do too much. And we’ll get that corrected.”

The record will show that Murray rallied the Cardinals from a 24-6 deficit in the fourth quarter. That score is symbolic. That was the outcome of Steve Wilks’ first game in Glendale, a feeble loss to the Redskins.

Murray had help. It was a day when Larry Fitzgerald taught another new regime how important he is to the energy level at State Farm Stadium, and how he’s always open. Even when he’s not.

The defense held firm against the run, a serious concern entering the season. Offensive lineman Justin Murray joined the team this week and played 88 snaps at right tackle in his first NFL start.

Kingsbury dialed up a gorgeous call on the team’s final touchdown, and then followed up with a successful two-point conversion.

But in the NFL, it always gets back to the quarterback. Especially here and especially now. This was Murray’s first professional game, the kind where you keep the ticket stub. Just in case he’s fitted for a yellow jacket 15 years down the road. This was a big event, even for a low-ceiling football team.

For three quarters, we were all bracing for another dumpster fire in 2019, another dismal season full of lopsided losses and embarrassing football. But Murray’s fourth-quarter performance, along with the clutch gene required to pull off such a change momentum, gives us all renewed hope.

First impressions don’t always work out in the NFL. Troy Aikman, John Elway and Peyton Manning all struggled in their professional debuts. And who can forget the Cardinals’ Tom Tupa, a quarterback/punter drafted in 1988 who threw six interceptions in his first shot at glory, in a Week 6 game against the Eagles.

But Murray changed the narrative. He won’t feel good about his performance. But it could’ve been a lot worse.

“Being down 18 in your first start and finding a way to get back, that’s impressive,” Kingsbury said. “So I was really proud of his effort.”

After the game, nobody wanted to act happy, where there was a strange sense of emotional limbo inside the locker room. J.R. Sweezy said ties “go against everything I believe in.” David Johnson said he felt “terrible” about the outcome, mad at himself for not scoring a touchdown on a rushing attempt early in the game. Even the highly-experienced Terrell Suggs had a hard time reconciling what he had just witnessed.

But this is a journey requiring a fair amount of patience. Our previous two game-changing quarterbacks were veterans by the time they arrived in Arizona, both plucked off the scrap heap (Kurt Warner, Carson Palmer).

And while a comeback victory would’ve been tremendous, maybe even transcendent, this tie can be something of a launching pad.

In the end, Murray did just fine. He was unflappable, whether he was wearing a red uniform or a green suit that he donned for his postgame interview.

A suit that did not have a tie. One was enough on this afternoon.

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