DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Cardinals’ loss to Falcons felt like a victory

Jan 1, 2023, 4:02 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm

Valley sports fans absorbed great trauma in 2022. The hope is that a new year will bring redemption and joy to Arizona.

We’re off to a good start.

The Cardinals’ 20-19 defeat in Atlanta was their best loss of the season. It was a loss that felt like a victory. It came on a day when a victory would’ve been bittersweet, at best.

It unveiled an intriguing option at quarterback. David Blough shined in his first start since 2019. He was the 64th quarterback to start in the NFL this season, a statistic that makes league owners cringe. But Blough was poised, even-keeled and clear-headed. He made some nice plays. He’s an underdog with great perspective. He’s about to become a “Hard Knocks” star for a second team this season. And he looks like a very capable backup quarterback moving forward.

It featured a breakout performance from tight end Trey McBride, who had seven receptions and his first career touchdown. Earlier in the season, there was a fear McBride might’ve been a terrible reach and a potential bust from the 2022 NFL draft. He’s come a long way in the past few weeks.

It was a tribute to James Conner, who continues to run hard every game, every play. There is no quarter given anytime he’s on a football field. He has exceeded 100 yards from scrimmage in four of the past five games, and his strong finish is a tribute to his character.

It yielded just rewards for J.J. Watt, who found the sack he was looking for, exceeding the 10-sack plateau for the sixth time in his Hall of Fame career. Watt has been a shining light for the Cardinals, providing crucial leadership through one of the most dysfunctional seasons in team history. While Watt has announced his retirement, the mentoring he provided Zach Allen, Cameron Thomas and others will be invaluable down the road.

In the end, the last-second defeat gave the Cardinals 12 losses. And with all due respect to the men who play the game, nothing is more important than the team’s draft position following the end of the regular season.

The Cardinals risk great indignity if they lose their season finale in San Francisco. They might end the season on a seven-game losing streak, and a 13th loss will tie a franchise record for ineptitude. Given all the off-field drama and dysfunction, a 13th loss will unofficially commemorate this year’s team as the worst in franchise history. And if you know this team’s history, that’s a mouthful.

But 13 losses will guarantee the Cardinals a top four draft pick. They will be in perfect position to draft the best non-quarterback in the nation or, better yet, trade down for a bounty of future assets. Their draft position in 2023 could be a game-changing moment for the franchise, providing much-needed regeneration and influx of talent.

The Cardinals and their fan base badly need the consolation prize that awaits. The one that might’ve been ruined with a victory in Atlanta.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6–10 a.m. on 98.7.

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