DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals hit Big Red reset button in win over Giants

Dec 13, 2020, 3:48 PM
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, right, is brought down by Arizona Cardinals defense durin...

New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, right, is brought down by Arizona Cardinals defense during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

(AP Photo/Noah K. Murray)

Must-win road games are deathtraps in the NFL. They give dying teams reason to quit.

The Cardinals made it look easy.

A 26-7 domination of the Giants on Sunday was everything they needed to prove, and everything we needed to see.

Following their spirited performance at MetLife Stadium, the Cardinals are back are over .500, back in the playoff picture, back in our good graces. They again resemble a dangerous team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

They effectively found and hit the Big Red reset button.

“I thought our guys had a good sense of urgency, understanding we want to be the best team we can be the last quarter of the season,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after the game. “I felt we made a step in the right direction this week … I did think our leadership stepped up and had a heck of a week.”

The particulars:

Kyler Murray played with attitude. The good kind. He showed real toughness, shrugging off critics and an in-game injury. He kept his head up, in more ways than one. Dan Arnold played like the best tight end in Cardinals history.

The defense showed real disdain for Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. There were sacks, turnovers and stop-after-stop dedication. Vance Joseph was ruthless, maybe the best the defensive coordinator has ever been in Arizona. Special teams shined, atoning for that debacle in New England.

A Jersey boy, Haason Reddick, set a franchise record with five sacks and three forced fumbles. He cried after the performance, filled with a deep sense of joy. It was the game of his life and it came at the perfect time. He will be a free agent after the season, after the Cardinals declined a fifth-year option in May.

“Evidently, the gameplan worked,” Reddick said.

“He didn’t let the noise get him down,” Kingsbury said.

In the season’s defining moment, the Cardinals played hard and fast. They played clean and dirty. They unleashed Kylie Fitts, who took a flying leap and kick-forced a fumble, a moment when the MMA met the NFL.

Whatever. The Cardinals made their own breaks on Sunday. Their offense actually seemed to dictate, not settle. Special teams ace Dennis Gardeck had two sacks on the afternoon, giving him four in two games at MetLife Stadium this season.

“Everyone had it going today,” said Cardinals LB Markus Golden, who also shined in his return to New York. “The team had me going today.”

The game was mostly free of drama. There was only a moment when the Cardinals seemed fragile. It came after Murray spun to avoid a blitzing defender, absorbing lower-body contact. He grabbed his leg in pain. He started to limp toward the sideline.

After catching his breath, Murray thought otherwise, swallowing the pain and continuing to play football.

Murray was under a white-hot spotlight on Sunday. There were newly hatched questions about his leadership, his personality, his practice habits and the health of his throwing shoulder.

Murray wasn’t great. But he was really good. He played brave. He moved up in the pocket. He threw the ball on the run. He kept his eyes downfield. He produced chunk plays against a Giants defense that had confused and harassed Russell Wilson.

It doesn’t matter if the Giants are a bad team. It only matters that the Cardinals cared enough to play like they did on Sunday. There were no leadership issues to complain of. No hand-wringing over the head coach, the defensive coordinator or the body language of the diminutive quarterback.

There was just a football team and its quarterback responding very well to building pressure and real adversity.

A football team that now has a one-game winning streak and a monkey off its back.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

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