DAN BICKLEY

Faced with golden opportunity vs. Seahawks, Cardinals shrivel

Nov 19, 2020, 10:52 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2020, 2:35 pm
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap (43) celebrates with defensive end L.J. Collier (91) a...

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap (43) celebrates with defensive end L.J. Collier (91) after Dunlap sacked Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, left, late in the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Seattle. The Seahawks won 28-21. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

(AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

No excuses. The NFL doesn’t want to hear it. Neither should you.

The Cardinals were gifted a golden opportunity on Thursday Night Football. They shriveled. They underperformed. They failed to meet the moment.

They weren’t beaten by Russell Wilson, the MVP candidate. They were emasculated by a wounded Seattle team with the worst defense in the league. The Cardinals were beaten up and beaten down on their biggest stage they’ve had in years. They were taught a lesson in pedigree, toughness and desperation.

Message sent. Message received. Damage yet to be determined.

“We’ve got to be better. We will be better,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “Obviously, it was a rough night.”

This 28-21 loss to the Seahawks went wrong in so many places. Murray was roughed up by a heat-seeking Seattle defense. The play calling was meh, as usual, and the head coach is starting to become an issue in 2020. His fingers drummed and his legs twitched in a post-game interview. It looks like he needs some help in the form of a reliable offensive coordinator.

The Cardinals also played with an unbecoming softness, somehow intimidated by the din inside an empty stadium. They lost all the key moments. They committed tons of penalties. Dan Arnold was separated from the football, in a symbolic play that distinguished predator from prey. Dre Kirkpatrick decided to pick a fight after a key third-down stop. They were caught holding in the end zone, giving up a safety and the football down the stretch.

And just when it couldn’t get any worse, they turned to Andy Isabella on the penultimate play of the game.

Dumb, soft, disappointing football.

For all the alibis, injuries and rationalizations that came with playing on a short week in mid-November, the Cardinals were clearly not ready to win a game of this magnitude. That hurts. And that has to change if they are going to make a playoff run this season.

This game continues the uneasy narrative of Kingsbury, who made a number of key mistakes on Thursday. Most elite offensive minds produce easy touchdowns on the first possession of the game, especially when scripting plays against inferior defenses. Kingsbury could not do that against the decimated Seahawks.

He started the game with a pair of three-and-outs. Later in the first half, he punted meekly on a convertible fourth down. He challenged a play late in the game that had no chance of succeeding. He is hardly distinguishing himself as an offensive guru in the NFL.

By contrast, this was a big victory for Seattle head coach Pete Carroll, who was unusually perturbed by a loss to the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium earlier in the season. He vowed to defend Murray differently in the encore, and made good on his promise. He took away Murray’s rushing contributions. He whipped his pass rushers into a frenzy. He tapped into their competitive pride, and it worked.

Any fool could feel the desperation Seattle would bring to the field, and Kingsbury had nothing in his playbook to expose the Seahawks’ overzealous approach?

Lame.

“We had our chances,” Murray said. “We just didn’t play well enough to win this game.”

The Cardinals can still recover. The play of rookie Isaiah Simmons surely turned some heads on Thursday. But this game was also a reminder that those at the top of the mountain didn’t get there by accident. They weren’t dropped at the summit by helicopter. If nothing else, the Cardinals learned that the climb only gets steeper near the top.

Our NFL rivalry with Seattle has become one of the most compelling shows on television. But this one hurts terribly, even worse than most. Because, this time, it feels like the Cardinals lost to a lesser team, a more vulnerable team.

Here’s hoping there’s a third game between these two rivals. A grudge match in the postseason. A chance for the Cardinals to right this wrong.

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