DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals answer call in road win over Dallas Cowboys

Jan 2, 2022, 7:34 PM | Updated: 7:50 pm
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals throws the ball during the second half against the Dallas ...
Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals throws the ball during the second half against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Only the bold and the brave win football games in January. On an epic Sunday in the NFL, the Cardinals answered the call.

They are no longer a team in collapse, snapping a three-game losing streak with a stoic 25-22 win over the Cowboys in Dallas.

They regained a chunk of dignity and respect. They flipped both the momentum and the narrative. They are now a team with a bit of tailwind. Stretch the facts just a bit, and you can rightfully say they haven’t lost a game since last year. That they are unbeaten in 2022.

That’s how fast things can change in the NFL.

The victory will be further proof that Kyler Murray owns Jerry World. He is now 8-0 as a starter at AT&T Stadium on three different levels of football. As a Texas schoolboy legend, he said he disliked the Cowboys because “they were always ass.” As an NFL quarterback, he has treated them the same, beating them twice by the combined score of 63-32.

But Murray wasn’t the biggest story of this triumph, even though he was omnipresent, making big plays and avoiding big mistakes.

This triumph was the overall mentality of a team that chose to meet the moment, a team that was able to rise to the challenge. On the road, they once again looked right at home.

That bodes well for the impending postseason.

The victory belonged to the Cardinals’ entire coaching staff, who clearly outperformed the Mike McCarthy clown show in Dallas. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury stayed aggressive, dialing up scoring drives on five of their first six possessions. His fake punt was an impact statement, where a defensive player (Chris Banjo) completed a pass to a rarely used running back (Jonathan Ward), who somehow trapped the ball against the defender’s helmet and wrangled control.

On this afternoon, the Cowboys were the team with the dumb penalties and disjointed tactics. And the Cardinals were the team with the rabid resolve, replacing DeAndre Hopkins with Antoine Wesley (two touchdowns); running the ball with physicality, even without James Conner.

But mostly, this game was about the Cardinals’ defense. It featured a masterful performance from defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who muddled the picture for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, disguising coverages and blitzes. Joseph turned the Cowboys into a reactionary offense, with their quarterback frequently audibly and unsuccessfully changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Arizona defenders had four batted balls in the first half, a testament to their focus and preparedness.

In recent weeks, the Cardinals seemed to lose their swagger. Their stars were outshined by the ones in Los Angeles. They lost to Jared Goff and the Lions. Their loss to the Colts on Christmas Day made you wonder if Kingsbury’s program was somehow built to self-destruct.

Mercifully, their championship pedigree seemed to re-emerge on Sunday, where Arizona’s big-time playmakers responded on demand in the biggest moments. Like when a blitzing Isaiah Simmons crashed into Ezekiel Elliott, bounced off the 225-pound running back, ran the other direction, tracked down a scrambling Prescott and punched out the football for a crucial turnover.

If there was a key play of the day, that was it.

You could feel the heightened stakes on Sunday, where an NFL season dizzily spun toward its conclusion. Jalen Ramsey slugged a Rams teammate in the defensive huddle on the first possession of the game. Antonio Brown was benched by Bruce Arians, and responded by rage quitting, partially disrobing on the sidelines and leaving the stadium shirtless. There was also a fear that the Cardinals might get exposed and embarrassed by the surging Cowboys.

Surprise. Hopefully, the Cardinals have a few of them left up their sleeve.

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

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