DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals’ next test is rebounding from nauseating defeat to Packers

Oct 28, 2021, 9:56 PM | Updated: 10:01 pm
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) kneels after the Green Bay Packers intercepted...

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) kneels after the Green Bay Packers intercepted the ball in the end zone during the second half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. The Packers won 24-21. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

At some point, a loss was inevitable. But this?

This was cruel and unusual. This was filled with courage and carnage, resilience and heartbreak, and a football team that could defy defeat no longer.

This one will require aspirin, antacids and amnesia.

On the doorstep of a miracle comeback, the Cardinals fell apart one last time. Kyler Murray threw a pass to A.J. Green, who never turned around. The Packers’ Rasul Douglas made an acrobatic interception in the end zone. Just like that, it was over. Half the building went silent while the wrong half celebrated their good fortune.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said the interception looked like a terrible case of miscommunication. It felt like a scaled-down version of how the Seahawks once coughed up a Super Bowl in the very same building. Sickening.

The outcome has consequences. Murray limped off the field. DeAndre Hopkins reinjured himself, even though he kept trying to reinsert himself into the game. Jonathan Ward left on a cart after a horrific collision, and fortunately, Kingsbury said Ward regained feeling in his extremities. And if these teams meet again in the playoffs, it might now involve a road trip to Lambeau Field in January.

What a shame. The Cardinals pulled off a pair of dramatic goal-line stands, and the last one set up the final drive, when Murray seemed to will his team downfield. But then the play calling got wonky, stuck between conservatively playing for a game-tying field goal and going for the jugular.

After three consecutive running plays, the Cardinals burned their last timeout with 15 seconds left, putting them in the precarious position of having to throw the ball in the end zone. Unfortunately, the only one who didn’t know that was the intended receiver.

The outcome also felt like justice for a Packers team that executed a masterful game plan. They weren’t interested in a scoreboard shootout. They were intent on playing keep away. They ran the ball relentlessly, attacking the Cardinals with handoffs and paper cuts.

Meanwhile, Murray was taking snaps from a third-string center. He rarely had a clean pocket. He did not look comfortable. He spent most of the night watching from the sidelines, as the Packers offense controlled the clock, dominating time of possession.

At times this season, the Cardinals defense has looked dominant. At times, they looked vulnerable against strong rushing attacks. There was no debate on Thursday. Without the physical presence of J.J. Watt, the Packers owned the line of scrimmage. To their credit, the Cardinals defense never stopped fighting.

Yet for most of the night, the Cardinals seemed to lack energy and intensity. Maybe it was the short week of preparation. Maybe it was the loss of Watt. And maybe a real home-field advantage at State Farm Stadium could have fueled the Cardinals out of their lethargy. Maybe a real home-field advantage would’ve made a significant difference in a game like this.

The composition of the crowd was predictably disgusting. Given the enormous audience tuning into a rare Thursday Night Football showdown, it will not reflect well on our reputation as a big-league sports town.

At issue is the robust secondary ticket market in Arizona that serves as a supply chain for a huge swath of transient fans in the Valley. Transplants from the Midwest and East Coast willingly pay exorbitant prices because it’s their one chance to support their team in person. This has turned Cardinals tickets into instruments of profit purchased in volume by ticket brokers.

There is no judgment here. Some diehard fans would never buy season tickets only to pawn off the most compelling games. Others can’t resist recouping a chunk of their investment by selling off tickets to a single game. But this much is indisputable:

The Cardinals entered the game as the NFL’s only unbeaten team. They deserve a real home-field advantage. They deserve better.

Now comes the real test. Namely, shrugging off a nauseating defeat and the adversity that comes with losing a showdown on national television, when the Cardinals picked a bad night to have a bad night.

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