DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals riding new kind of momentum to close out season

Dec 22, 2019, 7:20 PM | Updated: 8:49 pm
ILB Jordan Hicks (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)...
ILB Jordan Hicks (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Football is built on conflict and drama. Win the conflicts and you don’t have the drama.

The Cardinals are proof. They beat Seattle by two touchdowns on Sunday, despite losing Kyler Murray to a non-contact injury. They won with bloody knuckles and a defense that held an 11-win team to 13 points.

They carry a new kind of momentum entering the final week of the season. The lynch mob has dispersed. The general manager can exhale.

The status of Murray is an obvious concern. Records will show the diminutive quarterback lasted 14.5 games before he was felled by injury. He has also played with greater velocity and ferocity the past two games, running the ball with greater purpose. Coincidence?

Murray spent most of Sunday doing to the Seahawks what Russell Wilson has done to the Cardinals for the past eight years. Let’s hope this hamstring tweak is just a fluke, and not a red flag.

Either way, it can’t diminish this triumph.

This 27-13 victory over the Seahawks continued an amazing trend of December road trips to Seattle, games that are somehow spun into heartwarming consolation prizes. The Cardinals have now won five of their last seven games in one of the NFL’s most hostile outdoor venues. These games are always riveting and always arrive just in time for the holidays. We are officially living in Seattle’s head, and it’s hard to complain about the view.

Remember Drew Stanton’s sideline dance after Andre Ellington’s clinching touchdown in 2015? The rude gestures from Carson Palmer to Seattle fans? The missed field goal that allowed Bruce Arians to win his last game as head coach in Arizona?

Sunday’s game featured an 80-yard touchdown run from Kenyan Drake, a Secretariat moment that affirmed one of Steve Keim’s really good maneuvers in 2019. It also featured money-sign gestures from Drake after his scoring plays, revealing a player in the closing sprint of a contract drive.

The Cardinals must re-sign Drake after what he’s brought to the offense. But how expensive is he getting after the past two weeks?

You can only hope the rumors are true, that Arians and Tampa will line up as a trade partner for Johnson in the offseason. Otherwise, this running back situation is about to get crowded and complicated.

Sunday’s game also featured a sideline celebration from beleaguered defensive coordinator Vance Joseph after his defense came up with a dramatic stop on third down. It was a show of emotion we haven’t seen before, along with a defensive domination 15 weeks in the making. Chandler Jones even made a play after dropping back in coverage, validating one of Joseph’s wackier strategies.

Sunday’s game featured sturdy moments from backup quarterback Brett Hundley, whose emergency response to Murray’s injury showed how much he’s been paying attention, and how connected this team is at its core. And Kliff Kingsbury’s handling of the moment shows how capable he is of calling plays under duress, at controlling the pace and strategy of a game.

The Cardinals have done some strange things down the stretch with personnel, releasing a pair of veteran starters on defense, the kind of stuff that makes you wonder about internal belief and direction of the new regime. Their two losses following the bye week were alarming given the lack of conviction and effort.

But Sunday again proved there is no zombie football on display in Arizona. Playing the Seahawks on the road has been our version of the Super Bowl for too long, but the outcomes are always worthy of celebration.

Now, the Cardinals have a chance to finish with their second three-game winning streak of the season. They can avoid double-digit losses. They can reward Kingsbury, who yearned for three wins in the final five games, thereby posting a winning record after the bye week, sticking a flag into the ground and building momentum for 2020.

Without Murray, the Cardinals have little hope of beating the Rams in Los Angeles. But Sunday’s game was proof that you never really know anything in the NFL, a day when an MVP-candidate quarterback in Wilson was shut down by an Arizona defense that specialized in making benchwarmers look like Hall of Famers.

Football is a funny sport. Every game feels like its own season. Victories inflate truth and beauty. Most losses bring a pall that covers the entire region for days. The overreactions and knee-jerk criticisms are unbecoming, out of control and precisely why we love this sport so much. Same with the glow from a single courageous performance.

Just like Sunday, and another signature victory in Seattle.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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