DAN BICKLEY

Cardinals, Jonathan Gannon surprise critics despite Week 1 loss

Sep 10, 2023, 2:12 PM | Updated: 6:42 pm

Jonathan Gannon looks on...

Head coach Jonathan Gannon of the Arizona Cardinals looks on against the Minnesota Vikings in the first half of a preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium on August 26, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 18-17. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

You don’t get trophies for moral victories in the NFL. But they won’t throw tomatoes at you, either.

Jonathan Gannon mustn’t worry about flying fruit.

A 20-16 road loss to the Commanders on Sunday felt like a victory on many fronts: The Cardinals weren’t embarrassed. They weren’t disorganized or dispirited. They had the ball at the end with a chance to win the game.

That’s more than I expected.

For a roster stripped of impact players, the defense showed great promise and great passion in Gannon’s head-coaching debut. The unit scored a touchdown and collected six sacks. Zaven Collins and Kyzir White brought serious thump. They committed stupid penalties, but those were vicious hits born from violence. Stupidity cannot be tolerated because stupidity gets you beat. But it appears Gannon is finding the killers he so covets.

Much to the chagrin of his detractors in Philadelphia, Gannon’s team surprised in a very pleasant way in Week 1. Unlike the previous Super Bowl in Glendale, Gannon’s defense mostly smothered Eric Bieniemy’s offense.

This is no small feat. Philly is a viciously loud and proud sports town, and Eagles fans seem to have a dual purpose this season: they want to get back to the Super Bowl and they want to amplify and sneer at every misfortune Gannon experiences in Arizona.

That’s why the optics of Week 1 matter. Gannon is 0-1 as a head coach, but the Cardinals looked like a team with new hope and a new culture. And the only damage from his debut appears to be the kindling of a quarterback controversy.

To be fair, Joshua Dobbs wasn’t terrible in his Cardinals debut. The offense had moments of flair and creativity. But Dobbs should’ve been intercepted twice to go along with the two fumbles. There was far too much dinking and dunking and passes to the tight ends. The Cardinals need to feature Hollywood Brown and Rondale Moore, and they need to make more plays down the field.

In a snapshot moment that quarterbacks live for, Dobbs had the ball and the chance to win the game. Alas, there was no end-game magic to be found. And if Dobbs isn’t going to protect the football, the Cardinals might want to consider Clayton Tune, who can drive the ball downfield.

In the end, the Cardinals put a credible, workman-like effort on the field. They surprised all the critics who thought they were nothing but roadkill and Gannon fodder. They held their own inside a rocking stadium, on a day that felt like a spiritual rebirth for the Commanders fan base.

And if Kyler Murray were at quarterback, the Cardinals would be 1-0.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7.

Dan Bickley

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