The truth of the Cardinals comes out in Mexico City

Nov 21, 2022, 10:06 PM | Updated: Nov 22, 2022, 3:08 pm

Propaganda dies between the lines in the NFL. Just like the Arizona Cardinals’ season on a slippery night in Mexico City.

They lost a must-win game to the 49ers, 38-10. The leadership and poise of Colt McCoy couldn’t pierce an elite NFL defense. With seven losses and six games to play, they are a dead team walking in the NFC playoff picture.

The long-term outlook is far more concerning than any short-term concerns.

The 49ers’ dominant victory was a testament to a legitimate Super Bowl contender gathering steam as the season evolves, a team with better health, better conditioning and a far better roster. It was an emphatic tribute to the better general manager/head coach combination. It was a snapshot of the Cardinals’ $230 million dilemma moving forward.

To wit:

From the friendly storytellers at HBO to the pregame show on Monday Night Football, McCoy was lauded as exactly the kind of leader necessary to unlock Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme and an offense full of frustrated playmakers. Former 49ers great Steve Young implored Murray to go back to school and retrain his brain, just like Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes. Larry Fitzgerald even seemed to pile on the polarizing Murray, in his own careful way.

Truth is, McCoy isn’t nearly enough quarterback to win a championship. And the Cardinals are failing badly at shaping and molding the other guy into a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback.

Once again, nothing will change in Arizona until something changes. Because Monday’s game wasn’t a battle for long.

The game first flipped on a DeAndre Hopkins taunting penalty, when the Cardinals’ star celebrated a big reception by counting the numbers of 49ers attempting to guard him. One. Two. Flag.

Some Cardinals fans immediately cried foul. But self-awareness is an important trait in life, and the NFL called 61 taunting penalties in 2021. Most of them were absurd, and yet the league upheld 56 of them. They also vowed to continue their crackdown in 2022, which means Hopkins needed to know better. And in the end, the penalty was another mental error from one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL.

From there, the Cardinals’ biggest game of the season felt like a bug trying to tackle a windshield.

There was also a fascinating subtext accompanying Monday’s game. The director of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” previously teased “shocking” footage of the events that led to Eno Benjamin’s controversial release from the Cardinals. Yet on Monday, HBO told the Arizona Republic’s Bob McManaman that there would be no such revelations. Even though Benjamin’s unhappiness reportedly started on the sideline, during the game.

With all their access and experience, it’s incredulous that NFL films could miss such an event.

The show has already received criticism for not properly framing Kliff Kingsbury’s dicey reputation as an NFL head coach; and for ignoring Patrick Peterson’s verbal assault on Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim following a loss to the Vikings.

The Benjamin incident is different. It threatens to reduce “Hard Knocks” into nothing more than a propaganda tool, a sugar-coated look at what it really costs for embedded access and behind-the-scenes footage in the NFL. Enjoy at your own risk.

Remember, once the ball is in play, professional football is brutal and honest. It’s black and white and red with blood stains. And all the proof you need is right there on the field, every week, every game. And once again, it wasn’t pretty for any of the Cardinals on a pivotal Monday night in Mexico City.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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The truth of the Cardinals comes out in Mexico City