Rapid reactions: Missed opportunities haunt Cardinals again vs. Texans

Nov 19, 2023, 3:35 PM | Updated: 6:03 pm

Devin Singletary #26 of the Houston Texans rolls into the end zone for a touchdown during the secon...

Devin Singletary #26 of the Houston Texans rolls into the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter of a game against the Arizona Cardinals at NRG Stadium on November 19, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

It was another loss for the Arizona Cardinals that felt oh so winnable on Sunday, a 21-16 defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans.

Rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud has been the man this year but threw more interceptions in this game (3) than he had the whole season coming in (2). The Cardinals had their fair share of opportunities, especially in the second half, but Kyler Murray couldn’t piece together a game-winning drive after the defense responded after a poor opening two quarters.

Murray in his second game back finished 20-of-30 through the air for 214 yards, a touchdown and an interception while Stroud tallied 336 yards and two scores to go with those three picks.

Arizona Sports’ hosts and editors give their first thoughts on Arizona falling to 2-9:

John Gambadoro, co-host of Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo: This is one Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon is going to have some regrets on.

The Cardinals facing a 4th-and-3 from the Texans 23-yard line down 21-16 with 12:54 remaining left the best field goal kicker in the game this season on the sidelines and went for it only to see a short pass to Greg Dortch come up short by a yard. A 40-yard field goal there and Arizona is down 21-19 with plenty of time on the clock. Had Gannon chosen the field goal Arizona may very well have had a chance to win the game with a 44-yard field goal on their final possession instead of having to go for a 4th-and-8 from the Houston 27.

Now, maybe the game plays out differently but Arizona’s defense did have two of their three interceptions of Stroud after Gannon went for it with 12:54 left. Maybe the analytics say go for it at that point but the feel of the game said kick the field goal get within two points and you have plenty of time left to win the game.

I thought Murray underthrew several passes today in Houston. He was good but not great.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta: Last week, we all marveled at Murray’s rust-free return against Atlanta. The rust showed in Sunday’s 21-16 loss at Houston.

After connecting with Rondale Moore on a 48-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the game, Murray’s accuracy faded. He underthrew a deep ball to Hollywood Brown that resulted in an interception. He missed shorter passes on crucial downs. Murray struggled mightily.

It wasn’t all on him. I thought the play calling on offense was shaky all day. Gannon’s decision to go for a two-point conversion with almost 18 minutes of football left affected the rest of the game, putting the Cardinals in point-chasing mode.

Credit to the defense for pitching a second-half shutout and providing Kyler and the offense with numerous opportunities to win the game. The Cardinals’ struggling offense couldn’t capitalize.

Dave Burns, co-host of Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo: You didn’t think it was gonna be easy, did you? That Murray was going to follow this perfectly linear comeback path where he was going to get a little bit better with each game? That is not how this works.

The struggles of Kyler were evident but not until we had another bar-raising play on the first drive. His 48-yard dime of a touchdown pass to Moore on the Cardinals opening drive suggested that perhaps this was going to be that easy. Just about everything after that was a grind. Accuracy issues. Wobbly passes. Trouble with the blitz. Sacks. An overall offensive operation that looked clunky.

Nothing came easy for Kyler in start number two. It wasn’t all bad; 7.1 yards per carry proved the wheels are still there. Frankly, this was the kind of start I would have expected in his first week back. But last week changed expectations – perhaps changed them too quickly – and now he and the coaches have a dose of failure from which to learn and teach. There’s still plenty of time. He wasn’t going to win the job in week one back so they’re certainly not scheming to draft his replacement after week two.

The impressive part of Sunday was the Cardinals defense in the second half, in particular after the injuries to Kyzir White and Leki Fotu forced the Cards deeper into the roster. Stroud impressively had his way in the first half but was cut off in the second half. His three-interception day opened the door for the Cardinals to steal one on the road but the Cards couldn’t turn one of those interceptions into points.

Tyler Drake, Cardinals reporter and editor: The Cardinals defense did what it needed to do on Sunday against the sensational rookie Stroud and the surprising Texans. He scored a pair of touchdowns early on to go along with nearly 300 yards in the first half but was held in check in the second, highlighted by a pair of interceptions and right around 50 yards through the air. That’s a huge win for the Cardinals, who also had to make up for a questionable call on a punt that gave the ball to Houston in primo real estate.

But on the other side of things, Arizona fell flat in a big way offensively.

Kyler Murray’s underthrows were glaring on Sunday, with the QB missing potential touchdown strikes to Brown despite the wide receiver’s efforts to create space. In some instances, Murray’s ball looked more like a duck than football. It’s been a tough two-game sample size for Murray and Brown, who haven’t linked up nearly as much as many of us thought upon the QB’s return.

The leadup to Murray’s touchdown run in the third quarter — the only score of the second half — was special behind a video-game run to set up his one-yard score, but the heroics ended there. The good feelings from last week haven’t completely been wiped away, but that was clearly a step back for K1 under the new regime.

I will say this, though: It was great to see Moore get the ball DOWN THE FIELD instead of around the line of scrimmage. Good things happen when he’s not near the LOS.

Kellan Olson, editor: I think it was justifiable to expect some rust for Murray after an 11-month absence, and it appears there was just a week of delay on that.

The underthrown balls are bad mental errors more than inaccuracy given how we know Murray as a passer to not be the type to screw up the simple tosses like that. A rhythm will start to click for him after a few weeks and the good news is the highs are still showing. The best moment of the game was the dime to Moore for six, not only because it was a beautiful throw, but the type we were used to seeing Murray be proficient in prior to the 2022 season when his regression in that area (among many others) was difficult to understand.

In a not-so-brief aside, I think I literally said aloud at some point this offseason, “The Cardinals are a lock for two top-10 picks unless C.J. Stroud is the best rookie quarterback in the last decade.” About that! Man, is he legit. The lack of experience finally started to show for him a bit in this one but the poise, progression through his reads and natural instincts as a thrower are phenomenal. As a football fan, I can’t wait to watch him continue to grow.

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