ARIZONA CARDINALS

Might we call Cardinals special after they overcame adversity again?

Oct 17, 2021, 4:47 PM | Updated: Oct 18, 2021, 11:44 am
DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a touchdown with teammates during the third...
DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a touchdown with teammates during the third 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)

Adversity is opportunity in a scary costume.

The Arizona Cardinals shook it off like DeAndre Hopkins deking hapless defenders. Like J.J. Watt screaming, “You can’t block me!” Like a football team that will not be denied.

Following a 37-14 victory on Sunday, the Cardinals remain the NFL’s only unbeaten team for a third consecutive week. They defied the Cleveland Browns, the notorious Dawg Pound, COVID-19 and a Hail Mary that threatened to nullify an entire half of domination.

The Cardinals now have four road victories in 2021. Three times, they have demolished a Super Bowl contender from the opening kickoff (Titans, Rams and Browns). Three times, they have entered as underdogs only to make thunderous impact statements.

Arizona’s stable of stars shined once again: Hopkins scored two touchdowns and must’ve seemed like a ghostly apparition to the Browns, who could not find him or hit him. Watt’s first sack resulted in a key turnover, causing significant damage to Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. With a backup center and a new voice in his helmet, Kyler Murray still found a way to outshine his college roommate at Oklahoma.

The Cardinals are 6-0. Even if this victory went to a head coach by committee.

With Kliff Kingsbury and others sidelined with COVID-19, the Cardinals further legitimized their status as Super Bowl contenders. It is a testament to the upgrades inside the locker room, the influx of new talent and new leaders who have reshaped the culture. General manager Steve Keim deserves much credit for promises kept.

As usual, the tone was set by Murray, who shrugged off a critical mistake from backup center Max Garcia on the opening drive, converting a 3rd-and-19 with a gorgeous 21-yard touchdown pass to Christian Kirk. It was yet another dagger from a quarterback who can demoralize defenses like no other.

The second haymaker was provided by Hopkins, who put the finishing touches on the strangest drive of the season, one that featured two Arizona timeouts; two penalties apiece from two different Browns defenders; and six penalties total, including one that nullified an epic touchdown celebration from Murray.

It was 3rd-and-goal from the Cleveland 13 when Hopkins took a quick pass from the heavily pressured Murray. It was a throwaway play with little chance of finding the end zone. Until Hopkins threw the slickest hip fake you’ll ever see, sent two defenders into the afterlife and then bullied his way into the end zone. It was a stunning display of talent and toughness, and another great escape by the Cardinals offense.

There would be pause for concern. The Browns converted a Hail Mary pass for a touchdown as time expired in the first half, when four wayward Cardinals defenders were somehow trailing the play. It was eerily reminiscent of the giant momentum swing that occurred in Jacksonville when Kingsbury’s wacky decision to attempt a 68-yard field goal resulted in a 109-yard touchdown return for the Jaguars.

Once again, it meant nothing.

The Cardinals prevailed because they have a special quarterback who is currently locked up in an MVP race with Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. They prevailed because Vance Joseph’s defense is becoming a dangerous weapon, posting seven fourth-down stops in the past two weeks. It’s a defense that hits hard and tackles with malicious intent. And despite their occasional vulnerabilities in rush defense, they have now stuffed the NFL’s best running back (Derrick Henry) and the best running team (Browns).

They prevailed because special football teams don’t let anything get in their way, including adversity. And after another blowout on the road, who would dare argue with the 2021 Cardinals?

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

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