Cardinals defense continues to outshine offense in loss to Eagles
GLENDALE — The Cardinals came close on Sunday. Close to beating a good team. Close to being a good team.
Alas, there are no moral victories when you’ve lost eight consecutive home games.
“I think we had a spell like this one year in my former life,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “It’s tough. We’re beating good teams on the road and losing to not-great teams at home …”
Following Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Eagles, it has been almost a full calendar year since the last home victory at State Farm Stadium. It’s a mindboggling, unforgivable statistic that undermines every attempt to paint the Cardinals as a serious operation. Even if Sunday’s game carried the scent of progress.
The defense is overachieving to the point where it’s no longer overachievement. Zach Allen is making a weekly impact. Byron Murphy Jr. is becoming a star before our very eyes, adding A.J. Brown to the impressive list of wide receivers he’s bottled up in 2022. Isaiah Simmons added 13 tackles. Together, the defense held the Eagles to a pair of second-half field goals.
The game also featured recurring points of contention: a slow start, a scoreless first quarter, failed wide receiver screens, poor clock management in high-pressure situations and a quarterback who is waiting far too long to make plays with his legs.
An issue was Murray’s poor situational awareness on the final drive, sliding too soon on a second-down carry. Upon instructions from the head coach, he came up to the line of scrimmage and clocked the ball. That’s when the referee spotted the ball short of the first down marker.
With no timeouts remaining and the clocking ticking, the Cardinals proceeded with their original plan to stop the clock rather than adjusting on the fly. That left Matt Ammendola with a 43-yard field goal attempt, which turned out to be a little too daunting for a kicker signed off the street.
“It was just the point of no return,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of the decision to spike the ball.
The post-game locker room painted an interesting scene: Kingsbury sought out Eno Benjamin, congratulating the running back for playing most of the second half with cramps, on guts alone, the last healthy running back the team had available. Kingsbury also had lengthy conversations with offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum and Justin Pugh. And then Pugh staged a theatrical, over-the-top admonishment of the media for surrounding Ammendola, who missed the game-tying field goal.
“It’s not one (expletive) guy,” Pugh barked before turning to the failed kicker. “Keep your (expletive) head up.”
It was either a sign of growing solidarity or proof the Cardinals butchered their final possession. Murray, who missed a wide-open Ertz earlier on the final drive, was still in his uniform when he showed up for his postgame interview an hour after the game’s conclusion.
“The defense played their ass off,” Murray said. “Offensively, again, not up to the standards we’re used to playing around here. But again, we had a chance. Moved the ball downfield. That’s all you can ask for a chance.”
That’s true, but only if you’re playing in hostile territory. Expectations should be a lot higher when you’re playing at home.
Bottom line: The defense gives you hope that things might be different when DeAndre Hopkins returns in Week 7. But the offense remains a maddening mess of potential, and the Cardinals are still struggling with urgency on offense. They only ignite when Murray starts running with abandon, stirring up chaos, making plays with his feet. Once again, the Cardinals waited too long to deploy the most damaging weapon in their arsenal.
Now, they must find a way to do what Kingsbury does best: win on the road once again, this time against a division rival in Seattle. Because a 2-4 record might be too much of a deficit for this slow-growing team to overcome. Even in a muddled NFC. Even with the impending return of Hopkins.
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