Arizona Cardinals gain needed experience in blowout loss to Saints
NEW ORLEANS — Some lessons are learned easy. Others go down like Louisiana hot sauce.
The Cardinals’ 31-9 loss to the Saints Sunday in the Superdome was both a reality check and a painful reminder:
The future is not now.
That much is certain after a game when the Cardinals offensive line was humbled by a very good defense; when head coach Kliff Kingsbury made a terrible rookie mistake, validating some of the offseason criticism surrounding his hire; when quarterback Kyler Murray looked occasionally skittish under severe pressure in the NFL’s most hostile environment.
“(New Orleans) is a team that is used to winning, used to protecting home field,” Cardinals star wideout Larry Fitzgerald said. “And you know the kind of atmosphere is top five greatest atmospheres in professional sports.”
He’s right about that. New Orleans fans go mute when the Saints are on offense. They flip the switch and turn rabid when the opposing team takes the field. Everyone in attendance is fully engaged, detached from their cellphones, doing their part for the cause.
In the long run, this experience will surely help the maturation of Murray. Same with the education of Kingsbury, who began the day with a riveting trick play only to make a series of questionable play calls under duress.
The Cardinals head coach authored his first serious blunder in the third quarter, with his team absorbing heavy punches but trailing only 10-6. He decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 from his own 29-yard line, and ran Chase Edmonds into a brick wall.
The Saints took over on downs. They scored touchdowns on three of their next four possessions. It was clearly a defining moment in the game, putting an end to any chance the Cardinals had at pulling off a monumental upset.
“We felt like, at that point, after getting a turnover, we had to make something happen,” Kingsbury said. “Unfortunately it didn’t work out. You have to give them a lot of credit. They have a great defense and made a play.”
Kingsbury has been candid and transparent about his play-calling mistakes in 2019. He has no problems with accountability. But, strangely, he didn’t see that call as an error in judgment. Even though his team hadn’t run the ball successfully all day, where Arizona running backs finished with eight yards on eight carries. Even though the decibel level of the crowd made communication nearly impossible.
“I like the play,” Kingsbury said. “I loved that. We practiced it a bunch. They did a great job of disrupting the flow and got in our face. But that’s a play we’ve executed at a high level. Once again, you have to give them credit.”
Inside the locker room, players rallied around their head coach and the controversial call. Edmonds said he has to find a way to pick up one yard in that situation. Fitzgerald said he supports all of the coaching decisions. Offensive lineman Justin Pugh took even greater responsibility, blaming himself for the disastrous outcome.
“I just know I got caught and got blown up,” Pugh said. “I didn’t do my job on that play, and (being) one of 11 not doing their job on the biggest play of the game is definitely not a good thing. But we’ll learn from that.”
Chances are, the Cardinals weren’t going to win, anyway. The Saints are too good. Drew Brees threw for 373 yards after a five-week absence, carving up Vance Joseph’s soft zone, a scheme that helped Michael Thomas catch all 11 passes thrown in his direction. And while Murray protected the football once again, he rarely challenged the Saints defense, leading an attack that generated only three field goals.
“That’s a good team,” Kirk said of the Saints. “(But) we feel like we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times.”
The loss ends Arizona’s three-game winning streak, which spawned a great deal of fantasy and pre-game optimism. Had they beaten the Saints, GM Steve Keim might’ve been tempted to buy before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Instead, this game will be part of the learning curve. The Cardinals have been thrust from streaking team into survival mode, forced to deal with a great 49ers defense on Thursday night, on a short week of preparation, while dealing with injuries to their top two running backs.
It might even tempt Keim to peddle Patrick Peterson, who came up with an interception on Sunday, but hasn’t been dominant in his return to action and did not speak to the media after Sunday’s game. Keim has repeatedly vowed that he’s not trading Peterson, but we have all learned that subterfuge is king in professional football, and truth is scarce commodity.
In some ways, this was the worst kind of lesson for Kingsbury’s Cardinals, the kind that comes attached to a painful loss, eliciting waves of criticism from spectators and critics alike, proving that nothing goes smoothly in the Big Easy. But it’s also true what they say:
In the NFL, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Let’s hope that rings true for the two rookies leading Arizona into the future.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.