Cardinals start fast and finish strong to beat Browns, move to 6-0

Oct 17, 2021, 2:40 PM | Updated: Oct 18, 2021, 12:55 pm
Christian Kirk #13 of the Arizona Cardinals catches a touchdown pass during the first quarter again...
Christian Kirk #13 of the Arizona Cardinals catches a touchdown pass during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 17, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Kliff Kingsbury was possibly watching from his comfy couch with a nice view of Camelback Mountain.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals (6-0) went into windy Cleveland weather to face the Browns on Sunday with their head coach left behind after he tested positive for COVID-19. But they didn’t leave Kingsbury’s offense at home.

The NFL’s fourth-leading offense (31.4 points per game) had little trouble scoring on pace in the first half and left Cleveland with a 37-14 victory.

The Browns chopped into the lead with zeros on the first-half clock, as quarterback Baker Mayfield connected with Donovan Peoples-Jones on a 57-yard Hail Mary. That made it 23-14.

But those were the only few moments where the Browns felt like a threat to the Cardinals, as injuries to Cleveland stacked up. Quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered shoulder injuries they played through, while running back Kareem Hunt — starting for the injured Nick Chubb — left with a calf injury.

The Vance Joseph-led Cardinals shut out Cleveland in the second half.

Arizona forced three turnovers for the day — two fumbles and one interception — and scored 13 points off those Browns miscues. It also piled up five sacks of Mayfield, including two each by Jordan Hicks and Markus Golden.

The team had two fourth-down stops on the day and after the game leads the NFL with nine so far this season.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray went 20-of-30 for 229 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. A.J. Green (79 yards), Christian Kirk (75) and DeAndre Hopkins (55) all scored touchdowns, with Hopkins nabbing two.

Arizona’s rushing attack outgained Cleveland 144-73 with assistant receivers coach Spencer Whipple calling plays into Murray’s headset instead of Kingsbury. Offensive line coach and run game coordinator Sean Kugler also contributed with the scheme, including giving a heavy workload to running back James Conner, who took 16 carries for 71 yards.

The Cardinals did all that with Kingsbury, linebacker Chandler Jones, defensive end Zach Allen, nose tackle Corey Peters and quarterbacks coach Cam Turner out due to COVID-19.

Putting the visiting squad ahead 7-0 midway through the first quarter, Arizona went on a nine-play drive for 74 yards than ended with receiver Christian Kirk scoring on a 21-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-19.

In that first drive, perhaps the impact of missing Kingsbury surfaced. A play before the touchdown toss by quarterback Kyler Murray, a premature snap by backup center Max Garcia was fumbled, putting Arizona well behind the chains.

Other procedural issues cropped up later on. The Cardinals burned two timeouts in the first quarter as it appeared they weren’t prepped to snap the ball on time with a play called.

Nonetheless, they got points.

After a fourth-down stop of the Browns, Arizona went 78 yards and capped a 3rd-and-goal from the 13-yard line with a quick-hit to DeAndre Hopkins — he made lemons out of nothing by juking a series of defenders and scoring.

A fumbled forced on Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield by Markus Golden led to a 36-yard field goal on the third Cardinals offensive possession, then cornerback Robert Alford picked off Mayfield, leading to a second Matt Prater field goal, this time from 51 yards out.

Cleveland responded by putting together a 75-yard drive that led to the first touchdown catch of the day by Peoples-Jones, and Arizona cooked nearly the rest of the second-quarter clock with a 12-play drive ending with a third Prater field goal.

But the Browns went 75 yards in 43 seconds for a touchdown drive that was completed by the Hail Mary play.

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