Cardinals answer the call, ditch ‘pretty boy’ brand with win in Chicago
Why are there so many transplanted sports fans in the Valley? Partly because December in the Midwest is not a pretty sight. Like Sunday’s NFL game on the shores of Lake Michigan, where the wind swirled, rain pelted, footballs squirted and fans waged war with their plastic ponchos.
The Cardinals embraced all of it. And a rugged 33-22 victory over the Bears did more than keep Arizona atop the NFC standings, setting the tone for an impending Monday Night showdown.
It proved they have come a long way from the days of Pretty Boy Football.
The Cardinals relied on a potent script to cruise to their league-leading 10th victory: They parlayed two early turnovers and 83 yards of interception returns into a 14-point advantage. They played from ahead, forcing the Bears out of their comfort zone. They knew Andy Dalton won’t beat you with his arm, even in perfect conditions.
The return of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins were harbingers of hope. Murray struggled to grip and throw a wet football in rainy conditions, but he made big plays. His 10 rushing attempts were a season-high for the diminutive quarterback, and those carries produced two touchdowns and often erased critical mistakes. He didn’t seem rusty or hesitant. He looked really fast.
Murray became the first player in NFL history to have more than 60 passing touchdowns (65) and 20 or more rushing touchdowns in his first 41 games. After a three-game injury hiatus, his performance rekindled his MVP candidacy. It was a reminder that if the Cardinals are finally getting healthy, they have enough quarterback to win the Super Bowl.
At times, the play calling was excellent. At times, the decision making was downright daffy. But the 10th win guaranteed Kliff Kingsbury’s first winning season since 2015, when he coached at Texas Tech.
The visitors were occasionally manhandled at the line of scrimmage, a recurring issue at various points of the season. The Bears’ David Montgomery gashed them for 90 yards on 21 carries. But the Cardinals are also loaded with big-time playmakers who shine at the right time, as Hopkins and Conner displayed on receiving touchdowns; as their defense illustrated with four interceptions of Dalton.
Savor this one for a moment, before we begin obsessing over a home showdown against the Rams on Monday Night Football. Because the Cardinals answered the call on Sunday. They were not derailed by contentment or their holiday bye week. There is a hardcore nature to this football team unlike anything we’ve seen from this franchise in their 33-year history.
The Cardinals are one of the Valley’s original transplants, a sports franchise that began in Chicago. On Sunday, they acted like a team right at home in an ugly slog-fest, right down to the vibe set by Kingsbury, who wore a “1920” baseball hat, the year the Cardinals made their pro debut.
Many defensive players chose not to wear sleeves at Soldier Field. Isaiah Simmons played with bad intent, as usual, bringing a certain fury along with his smorgasbord of skills. Byron Murphy Jr. has evolved into a wonderfully nasty cornerback. James Conner plays with a swagger and attitude that often overshadows his athleticism. Chandler Jones and Budda Baker are back to their disruptive, menacing best. And even Kingsbury bled for the team on Sunday, following a sideline collision with Leki Fotu.
That’s why the Cardinals are 7-0 on the road in 2021. They’re a team that enjoys the rough and tumble, the back-alley business of professional football. They’re a team that enjoys the taste of blood, even if it’s their own.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.