Rapid reactions: Cardinals don’t fall in the Jaguars’ trap

Sep 26, 2021, 2:41 PM | Updated: 3:06 pm

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) makes a reception against the Jacksonville Jagu...

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Christian Kirk (13) makes a reception against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

(AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

The Arizona Cardinals advanced to 3-0 for the first time since 2015 by avoiding a loss to the still-winless Jacksonville Jaguars.

Here are the main takeaway from our Arizona Sports hosts, reporters and editors.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: How many times during the Kliff Kingsbury era have you muttered under your breath (or yelled) “they’re trying to get too cute” after a play call?

Jacksonville Jaguars fans are likely yelling the same thing after the Cardinals scored a 31-19 win over the Jaguars on Sunday.

Jacksonville ran the ball right at the Cardinals’ defense — all of its 75-yard third quarter scoring drive came on the ground, with 66 and the touchdown from running back James Robinson. It looked easy, and at that point, the Jags had a 19-10 lead.

The Cardinals answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive of their own to pull to within two points with under two minutes to play in the third quarter.

So what did Jacksonville do when it got the ball back? The Jags got cute. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence served a flea flicker pick-six on a platter to Arizona’s Byron Murphy Jr., who raced 29 yards for the touchdown. The Cardinals wrestled the lead away and the Jags barely showed a pulse the rest of the way.

It’ll go down in the books as a 12-point win, but for Arizona, it was more than tenuous for most of the first 45 minutes. The Cardinals tried to boost momentum with a long field goal attempt right before the end of the first half for the second straight week. Last week, Matt Prater’s 62-yarder at the gun loomed large in the win over Minnesota. This week, Kingsbury’s decision to try an even longer field goal before halftime blew up in his face.

Prater attempted a 68-yarder (which would have been the longest field goal in NFL history) and was short. Jacksonville’s Jamal Agnew caught it nine yards deep in the end zone and returned it 109 yards for a touchdown with zeroes on the clock. Many Cardinals fans likely felt like they did when they were watching James Harrison return an interception for a TD after the first-half clock had expired in Super Bowl XLIII.

Agnew’s play wrapped up a lifeless first half for the Cardinals, who headed to the locker room trailing 13-7.

The second half was a different story as the Cardinals outscored Jacksonville 24-6 in the final 30 minutes, thanks in part to the generous play-call that swung momentum.

Kyler Murray was very good again, throwing for 316 yards, but once again had a bad interception from a clean pocket. The Cardinals once again flaunted their wide receiver depth with both A.J. Green and Christian Kirk topping 100 yards. And the defense was opportunistic, forcing four turnovers by Lawrence.

The Cardinals are 3-0 for the first time since 2015. That team was great and advanced to the NFC Championship Game. While the record is the same, this team isn’t yet. But they are good enough to win games when they play less than perfect, and that’s a good start.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Any given Sunday, right? For a while, this looked like the Cardinals could be victim to the biggest upset of the week. All week long the message was not to overlook the Jaguars. Not to look ahead to the Rams. Not to fall for the trap game. Respect your opponent! And besides, who are the Cardinals to overlook anyone? They haven’t accomplished anything. This is not Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Kansas City or anyone of that echelon. At least not yet.

So when the Jaguars took a 13-7 lead on a 109-yard return for a touchdown after a missed 68-yard field goal at the end of the first half, then went ahead by two scores on an eight-play drive of only runs that resulted in a four-yard touchdown run by James Robinson, there was cause for concern. The Cardinals scored on the ensuing drive to close within 19-17.

Luckily for Kliff and the Cards, they were playing against Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer. Somehow, Meyer called a trick play on the drive right after the Jaguars ran the ball down the Cardinals’ throats. A flea-flicker in which J.J. Watt got pressure resulted in Lawrence throwing up a pass only to have Byron Murphy pick it off and return it 29 yards for a touchdown that gave Arizona the lead for good. In a span of 91 seconds, the Cardinals went from down two scores to the pathetic Jaguars to ahead for good.

And then they put the game away when Kliff bypassed a field goal and a potential eight-point lead to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 6-yard line — after Murray converted that huge play, James Conner ran it in from a yard out two plays later to put this game away. So the Cards are 3-0 with the Rams, 49ers and Browns coming up. We will find out exactly how good they are in October! For now, just enjoy being one of the few remaining undefeated teams.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: It took a long time — a really long time — for the Cardinals to find their footing in this one. The third down futility had been slow-brewing all day. Another Kyler interception in the second half and a drive during which the Jags bludgeoned the Cards on the ground left Arizona down 19-10 late in the third quarter. You could almost hear the knives sharpening over Kliff Kingsbury’s play-calling and decision-making. And then, just like that, it flipped.

Boom: The drive that culminated in James Conner’s first touchdown was effortless. Bang: With a big assist to the Jags OC (a flea-flicker after you pounded the Cards into dust on the D-line?) the Cards took the lead on a Byron Murphy pick six. Done: Thanks to their first third-down conversion of the day and a fourth down go-for-it moment that led to Conner’s second TD of the day. Twenty-one unanswered points in a blink.

We shouldn’t get too excited about this one; the Jags clearly aren’t a good football team and the Cards allowed them to linger for far too long. But they deserve a measure of credit for altering their course midgame. They wiggled their way out of the trap game with another 30-plus point performance and now sit 3-0 for the first time since the last time they made the playoffs in 2015. They’ll have to be better against the better teams and expect plenty of hand-wringing about just how legit they are. At 3-0, those are good problems to have.

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & Luke: I can’t remember the last time a Cardinals win felt this odd. On the one hand, they’ve shown they can be a second-half team two weeks in a row, and that’s a characteristic good teams possess. They have so many legitimate weapons in the passing game that at least two seem to step up every week now, not much seems to rattle Kyler Murray at the moment and Byron Murphy has become the corner opposite Patrick Peterson that we’ve been looking for all those years. And just in time, too, since Peterson’s not even here anymore.

Oh, and the Cardinals are 3-0. Not many teams around the league can say that.

On the other hand, they just struggled with a Jacksonville team that hasn’t won a game in over 12 months, has a first year coach and relies on a rookie quarterback that — while I do believe he’ll be good someday — has absolutely looked like a rookie quarterback through three weeks. You shouldn’t be sweating out a game against that opponent, beyond maybe the first quarter. Instead Arizona let them hang around, handed them an inexplicable huge jolt right before halftime and had to rally for an ugly win. Not exactly recipe-for-long-term-success stuff.

All week long I thought this was an Arizona victory unless the game got weird somehow. And the Cardinals voluntarily made it that way by a) trying a kick where you couldn’t even see the uprights on TV and b) letting a guy run 109 yards without ever really touching him.

I feel like I just watched a chef mix in the wrong ingredients, turn the oven on too high, and yet miraculously still come up with a good dinner. At the end of the day this team is 3-0. They wouldn’t have won this game a year ago. But there’s work to be done, too. And here come the Rams.

Tyler Drake, Cardinals reporter and editor: Everyone breathe a sigh of relief. The trap game Arizona didn’t want to acknowledge looked like just that in the first half. The Cardinals could not for the life of them convert third-and-short situations and were not on queue as a whole offensively. The headache of a first half concluded with a 109-yard kick-six off of a 68-yard field goal attempt from Matt Prater. I like the decision to try for the FG, but the tackling was rough on Arizona’s part.

Luckily for Arizona, the play of Byron Murphy kept the Cardinals in the game with a pair of interceptions, one of which was taken to the house in the third quarter to give Arizona its first lead of the afternoon. From there, the Cardinals didn’t look back.

That phrase, “a win is a win” holds true for another week. But with the Los Angeles Rams next up on the docket, Arizona can’t afford to come out the gate like it has the last two weeks against an opponent of that caliber.

Kevin Zimmerman, lead editor: The focus will be on what hasn’t changed. The Cardinals again played down to their competition, had poorly timed penalties and couldn’t get their run game going. There were dropped interception attempts and just plain bad play-calls that didn’t fit time and situation.

But let’s focus on what has changed. Arizona responded to all that by forcing things in both the pass and the run against an opponent that was supposed to be overmatched. The Cardinals hit on enough big plays and never went away from rushing the ball to keep things balanced.

And even though you could complain about over-aggression from coach Kliff Kingsbury — I tend to like his 68-yard field goal attempt and believe one of three would-be tacklers should have made the play during Jamal Agnew’s 109-yard return — the results changed, too. Arizona won by a relatively decent margin against a team it wasn’t supposed to mess around with, did, and then defeated anyway.

The run defense remains a concern, and the offensive line health moving forward is a worry as well. But it’s a worry for next Sunday, when the real litmus test of how far this team has come under Kingsbury happens.

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