DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals’ beatdown of Titans felt like a preview of destruction

Sep 12, 2021, 2:11 PM | Updated: 3:12 pm
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles away from Tennessee Titans free safety Kev...

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) scrambles away from Tennessee Titans free safety Kevin Byard (31) in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

(AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Greatness doesn’t wait or whisper. It declares itself loudly.

Just like the Cardinals’ 38-13 win over the Titans on Sunday.

Overreaction? Try telling that to stunned fans in Nashville. Or to anyone who tried to block Chandler Jones.

At the very least, this is a great start to NFL season in Arizona, and exactly the jolt of credibility this organization needed. The Cardinals defense smothered a dominant running back. Kyler Murray filled up the highlight reel and the stat sheet, announcing his MVP candidacy on cue. Kliff Kingsbury took his first steps toward redemption with his most impressive victory to date. And Jones’ wrecking ball performance was breathtaking.

Who paid more? The Titans or Michael Bidwill?

It felt like an anomaly when Haason Reddick collected five sacks in a 2020 game against the Giants, a historic afternoon when a good guy caught thunder and lightning in a bottle. That wasn’t the case with Jones on Sunday. This game felt like a preview of destruction from an extremely motivated, highly disruptive, well-rested impact player.

After his fifth sack of the game, Jones made a gesture associated with an enormous windfall of money, the kind the Cardinals have yet to deliver in 2021. And then he went to the sidelines, stood before the Titans fans and crossed his arms like a boss.

In Week 1, Jones provided a powerful reminder of his freakish talents, putting Michael Strahan’s sack record on notice.

Nothing reverberates like a Week 1 victory in the NFL. But the Cardinals played physical, as promised. They were the team with the running back (James Conner) throwing stiff arms, not Tennessee and Derrick Henry. They exposed the Titans’ wobbly defense. They jumped on a team not constructed for large comebacks, just like you draw it up on the whiteboard.

But this felt bigger than a beneficial matchup or a single moment in the sun. The 2015 Cardinals scored 126 points in the first three weeks of the season and you could almost feel their malicious intent. The same vibe came off the 2021 Cardinals on Sunday.

The difference is star power.

The 2008 Cardinals are the only Arizona team to reach the Super Bowl. They did so with a flawed roster. But as Kurt Warner has often said, they also had just enough big-time players who could stand up and deliver big-time plays in giant situations. This team feels the same.

Jones was the star of the game, but J.J. Watt also tilted the playing field. DeAndre Hopkins produced a pair of spectacular touchdown catches. Budda Baker’s ball-hawking skills stole a sure touchdown from the Titans. And when Murray wasn’t tossing dime after dime with pinpoint passing, he was demoralizing the Tennessee defense with his elusiveness.

As Cardinals stars put their signatures on the game, the rest of the team followed suit. The penalties and sloppiness gradually disappeared. Rondale Moore and Christian Kirk looked extremely dangerous in supplemental roles. Stifling pressure upfront from Watt and Jones helped a young secondary hold its own.

It’s just one game. It’s just one week.

But it’s even more than we hoped. The rest of the NFL community is taking notice. And it’s exactly the sprinting start Kingsbury’s crew needed in Arizona.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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