DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals’ win over Eagles offers real reasons for hope

Dec 20, 2020, 7:37 PM | Updated: 10:04 pm
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) scores a touchdown as Philadelphia Eagles defe...
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) scores a touchdown as Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Michael Jacquet (38) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Eleven years ago, a home game against the Eagles made the Valley weep.

On Sunday, it made you believe.

A 33-26 victory guarantees nothing. But you could feel a temperature shift inside an empty State Farm Stadium. You could feel real desperation on Arizona’s sideline. You could sense how this nail-biting, cliff-dwelling afternoon featured the right mix of ingredients and stars.

Maybe even the beginning of a powerful trend.

“I thought we played hard, played physical, played to win,” Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

The Cardinals made all sorts of mistakes on Sunday. They should’ve won this game by three touchdowns. They committed two costly turnovers in the red zone. But they still scored 33 points. The defense held the line, standing firm when necessary.

It wasn’t perfect. And that’s what makes it so exciting.

“Everybody understood what had to be done,” Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks said.

Eleven years ago, the Cardinals beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship game in Glendale, a day when disbelieving fans cried openly in the stands. It felt like a miracle.  In reality, it was just a flawed team with a great quarterback getting outlandish breaks and huge performances from its marquee players down the stretch. Sometimes, that’s all it takes in the NFL. And it can happen again.

So, in the context of what really matters, Sunday’s game offered real reasons for hope. If the Cardinals are going to stack wins in the upcoming postseason, they must have an identity. Something that can rise to the occasion. Something that represents their soul, their will and the hill they will die on. Sunday’s game was the blueprint:

They must be special and dynamic on offense. They must be competent and reliable in all others phases. With all due respect to Vance Joseph, this team is not going to win a Super Bowl with their defense. Not even with Dennis Gardeck looking like Pat Tillman reincarnated.

On Sunday, Arizona’s offense featured chunk plays, a touchdown catch from Larry Fitzgerald and an all-you-can-eat buffet from DeAndre Hopkins. It showcased Murray running the ball, throwing on the run and passing for over 400 yards. It featured Dan Arnold, 526 yards of total offense and a fourth-down pass completed by the punter.  Even if it nearly gave the head coach an ulcer.

Kingsbury’s offense has only flashed during his 30 games in the NFL. It hasn’t peaked. Until now?

Keep your fingers crossed.

“Every win is my favorite,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said.

Sunday’s victory was essential for one final reason:

Both Hopkins and Fitzgerald produced highlight-reel touchdowns. Both occurred in traffic. Both required trust between quarterback and wide receiver. The game-winner to Hopkins was a masterpiece, illuminating a growing sense of camaraderie between the Cardinals’ most important players on offense.

When asked of his current comfort level with Hopkins, Murray said this:

“I like him versus anybody and I like me to put the ball where I need to be, so I guess 99.9 to 100%.”

When asked who had the better touchdown reception, Hopkins actually deferred to his veteran teammate.

“I’m going to go with Larry,” Hopkins said. “That dude like 10 years older than me.”

This should be an illuminating moment for everyone. If the Cardinals make the playoffs, it’s because they are peaking at the right time, because the offense is finding cruise altitude in December. Because Murray and Kingsbury finally learned to think playmakers and not plays in pivotal situations.

They learned to let their stars shine at a time when others tend to shrivel. They learned to feed Hopkins and Fitzgerald, filling the air with stardust and star power.

“Kobe Bryant wanted the ball in every clutch situation,” Hopkins said after the game. “That’s the kind of player I am.”

Case closed. Big-time players win big-time games. There is no easier path to glory in the NFL. It’s about time that lesson sticks in Arizona.

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