Rapid Reactions: Arizona Cardinals stave off Eagles’ comeback

Dec 20, 2020, 7:00 PM

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) celebrates after an NFL football game against th...

Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) celebrates after an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 33-26. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

After scoring 16 unanswered points in the first quarter on Sunday, the Cardinals’ matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles still came down to the final seconds.

Arizona did enough, however, to hold off rookie Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ comeback over the next three quarters of play to move to 8-6 on the year.

But despite the close score, the Cardinals never trailed in the victory.

A lot of the Cardinals’ success came from the arm of quarterback Kyler Murray. The second-year signal caller threw for a career-high 406 yards to go along with three touchdowns on 27-of-36 passing (75%). He also added 29 yards and a score on eight carries on the ground.

On the other side of the ball, the defense recorded a total of 6.0 sacks, 9.0 tackles for loss and a safety in another solid showing. Dennis Gardeck led the way with 2.0 sacks, while defensive lineman Zach Allen finished with 11 tackles, a sack and pass deflection.

Arizona Sports’ hosts and editors give their takes on what they saw in the Week 15 outing.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta

They always seem to make it interesting.

After jumping out to a 16-0 first-quarter lead, it looked like the Arizona Cardinals would coast to their 8th win of the year. The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t cooperate.

In fact, the Eagles, led by Jalen Hurts in just his second NFL start, outscored Arizona 26-10 over the next two quarters to tie the game entering the fourth quarter.

And the fourth quarter was wild.

It featured a 26-yard pass on a fake punt from Andy Lee to Zeke Turner that gave the Cardinals a first down at the Philly 41. They’d get nothing out of it as the Eagles’ defense stiffened and forced a turnover on downs.

Philadelphia went three and out on its next possession and then the Cardinals relied on their big guns. On a third-and-8 from their own 16-yard line, Kyler Murray connected with DeAndre Hopkins, who weaved down the field for a huge 44-yard gain. On third-and-2 from the Eagles’ 20, Murray looked for No. 10 again, and Hopkins made another really difficult catch look routine for a touchdown that put Arizona up 33-26 with just over seven minutes to play.

Then it came down to the Cardinals’ defense over that span. They stopped the Eagles twice — first on a fourth-and-21 from the Arizona 22-yard line. Then, the Cardinals, who won a game on a Hail Mary pass against Buffalo earlier in the year, had to play Hail Mary defense in the game’s closing seconds. Byron Murphy knocked down Hurts’ heave to tight end Dallas Goedert in the end zone to preserve the much-needed victory of the season.

The win was one the Cardinals made a lot harder than it needed to be, mostly due to being minus-three in turnovers and committing two in red zone (their first two red zone miscues of the year). Heading into Sunday, NFL teams were 3-25 when being minus-three or worse in turnovers. Murray, in addition to his awful interception in the end zone, put the ball in harm’s way a few times. His fumble in the second quarter set up the Eagles on a short field and they turned it into a touchdown that cut the Cardinals’ lead to 19-14.

But he also had over 400 yards passing for the first time in his career. He had a touchdown pass and a scoring run for the ninth different time this season.

Hopkins was the best player on the field Sunday, and Murray recognized it. Zach Allen, whose second season has been stalled by injuries, had a great game with 11 tackles, a sack and a pass defensed. Turner blocked a punt that led to a TD, had the big catch on the fourth down fake punt and a special teams tackle. Dennis Gardeck had another two-sack game before being carted off late with an injury. Larry Fitzgerald saw his personal touchdown drought end at 12 games with a beautiful grab in the second quarter.

But most importantly, the Cardinals overcame mistakes and won a huge December game to keep a temporary hold on the final NFC Playoff spot with just two weeks to play.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

“It don’t come easy.

You know it don’t come easy.

It don’t come easy.

You know it don’t come easy.

Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues.

And you know it don’t come easy.

You don’t have to shout or leap about.

You can even play them easy.”

No this eighth win of the season did not come easy as Ringo Starr once sang. If any word is wrapped around my brain right now, it’s relief.

When the final Jalen Hurts landed harmlessly onto the end zone turf at State Farm Stadium there was a sigh of relief in the Valley. The Cardinals should have won this game going away and then they should have lost this game.

It was tough to figure out if they deserved to win more than they deserved to lose. They didn’t play particularly well. Yes, Kyler Murray threw for a career-high 406 yards, but at times looked skittish. He still appeared to be hesitant to run with the ball. He threw a terrible end zone interception, fumbled in the red zone and put another ball on the ground that led to an Eagles TD. If he did a better job of taking care of the football, this game doesn’t come down to the last play. In some ways he was bailed out by the heroics of DeAndre Hopkins who made spectacular play after spectacular play even with defenders draped all over him. He had nine catches for 169 yards and a TD. Arizona doesn’t win this game without him.

The Cards defense had six more sacks and a safety but no takeaways and had to overcome four penalties by Patrick Peterson. Special teams had a blocked punt that led to a TD and a fake punt that led to a first down (although they failed to capitalize on that perfectly executed Andy-Lee-to-Zeke-Turner pass play). There are some things to like about this win and some things that will frustrate you to no end.

The Cardinals should be capable of putting a team like that away — especially when they were up 16-0. But they are just not clicking on all cylinders yet and maybe they won’t this season. They talk about how close they are, but are they really?

You take the win, especially with the Rams’ stunning loss and figure one more gets you in the playoffs. A loss could have been devastating. But in a tie game early in the fourth quarter, Arizona took the ball at their own 14-yard line and drove 86 yards for the go-ahead score thanks to two great connections between Murray and Hopkins. As bad as things seemed at that time, they drove the field and went ahead, putting all the pressure on the Eagles. And then their bend and sometimes break defense held — not once, but twice. It didn’t come easy — but it came.

Jordan Byrd, producer of Burns & Gambo

The Cardinals have talked all season about playing complementary football. Sunday against the Eagles, we got to see the good and bad of Arizona’s version of playing as a team.

Things started out well enough. Even after a red zone fumble from DeAndre Hopkins, all three phases of the Cardinals were in harmony in the first quarter. The defense forced a safety, the offense scored two touchdowns and the special teams unit came up with blocked punt. This all added up to a start that looked like the Cards would roll past and make easy work of the Eagles and Jalen Hurts. But then the Philly rookie quarterback, making his second career start, started to heat up.

Issues along the Cardinals defense reared its ugly head once again as the Eagles and Hurts marched up and down the field with big yardage screen plays, timely runs and big chunk plays to their tight ends. Add in the fact that Patrick Peterson couldn’t do anything without drawing a flag, and just like that, the Cardinals found themselves in a shootout. Hurts’ mobility was a real problem for the Cards defense. Whether he tucked it himself or used his legs to get out of pressure for a downfield pass, the young Eagles quarterback played like a seasoned veteran and arguably outplayed Kyler Murray.

Just as the Cardinals defense was beginning to find some traction and getting some stops, the offense went missing in action. In the first half, Arizona’s offense looked like the dream we have all had since the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury and the drafting of Kyler Murray. Deep passes down the field, throwing to Hopkins even in double coverage and a willingness by Kyler to use his legs were all on display early on.

That all went out the window as the game dragged along. Kyler’s passes became more erratic and his decision making more questionable. The Cardinals’ lack of success in short yardage situations is becoming all too familiar and is downright inexcusable for an offense that is supposed to be so evolved. Luckily, the Arizona defense was able to come up with back-to-back stops to end the game and cover for the Cards’ inability to get one first down to ice the game.

This game was a marathon. Initially, it felt like maybe the Cardinals were reaching their peak as a team at the perfect time of the season.

Instead, the game turned into a dodged bullet and another spotlight on the problems that still remain.

The Cardinals have had the benefit of using the NFC East the last two weeks to feel somewhat secure in their playoff situation, but both the Eagles game Sunday and the Giants matchup last week have me believing that faced against playoff caliber opponents, Arizona could have lost those games. With a win next Saturday against the 49ers, the Cardinals will be at the one-yard line in terms of solidifying their postseason spot. But as this season and Sunday’s game has illustrated, it’s never a gimme with the Cards in a short yardage do or die.

Tyler Drake, editor and reporter

The Cardiac Cardinals showed their faces on Sunday!

They jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first quarter but slowly watched that lead shrink before having to step up late in the fourth quarter to keep rookie Jalen Hurts and the Eagles from finding pay dirt.

Kyler Murray’s interception in the end zone was a bit of a head scratcher, but he made up for it with four total touchdowns and a career-high 406 passing yards.

The Cardinals were trending to put up some serious points after 26 in the first half, but managed just seven in the final 30 minutes of play. The stagnant offense in the second half of the game is worrisome. Things still aren’t fully clicking for an entire game. If the team wants to make the playoffs — and make some noise — a one-score second half cannot happen.

Luckily, the Cardinals were able to steal a few possessions on special teams, having blocked a punt and faking another.

Defensively, it’s time to give Dennis Gardeck more playing time on a regular basis. Another two-sack outing makes it evident he can get it done.

It wasn’t a complete game, but it was a win for Arizona.

If Sunday’s win was any indication of what’s to come, buckle up!

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Rapid Reactions: Arizona Cardinals stave off Eagles’ comeback