Rapid reactions: Cardinals deliver early New Year’s gift to fans

Dec 31, 2023, 3:28 PM | Updated: 5:27 pm

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts to a touchdown pass during the third quarter agains...

Kyler Murray #1 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts to a touchdown pass during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on December 31, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals picked up their fourth win of the season and made a huge impact on the NFC playoff picture by beating the Eagles, 35-31, in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Kyler Murray threw for 232 yards in the win with three touchdowns and a pick-six. James Conner and the running game keyed the victory, as the former Pitt man ran for 128 yards and a score while Michael Carter added 61 yards out of the backfield.

Greg Dortch had seven catches for 82 yards, including a crucial 36-yard grab on the final drive of the game to set up Conner’s touchdown run.

Arizona Sports’  hosts, editors and reporters gave their biggest takeaways from the Cardinals’ win.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & MarottaThe Eagles’ fan base had this New Year’s Eve game circled on the calendar since the NFL schedule was released in the Spring. A chance to take out all the frustrations of a disappointing Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on the man solely responsible for said defeat — Jonathan Gannon.

Gannon, of course, infuriated Philly fans by accepting the Cardinals’ head coach position the day after the Super Bowl, indicating, of course, that JG was checked out and in job interview mode instead of devising a defensive game plan to slow down the Chiefs.

In the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, Springfield’s bully in The Simpsons, “HA HA!”

Gannon’s Cardinals didn’t just go into Philadelphia and ruin the Eagles’ chances to win the NFC East, they DOMINATED the game. They kept the ball for nearly 40 minutes. They ran 30 more offensive plays. They ran the ball at will. And they overcame a potentially back-breaking 99-yard pick six in the first half.

One ingredient of this game I loved was it was the first sign of Murray building chemistry with his group of wide receivers. In his first six games, Murray had connected on only 43 percent of his targets to wideouts. Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Murray targeted Dortch, Wilson and Rondale Moore a total of 17 times. He completed 15 of those throws for 143 yards and a touchdown. Dortch continues to be a playmaker. Wilson, who was the “target” on the ill-fated pick-six, stepped up big time and caught the game-tying touchdown on a huge fourth down play.

Murray, outside of the miscommunication on the interception, was better than he’s been all season. His best throw, in my opinion, was his 12-yard connection with Moore on a 2nd-and-9 on the last play before the two-minute warning while facing a collapsing pocket. That drive ended in Conner’s 2-yard touchdown run with :32 left to seal the deal.

I’m ecstatic for Gannon. He’s spent the last 10 months wearing the label of scapegoat for an entire fan base. This is a huge win for him and his young staff and for a team that very well may have planted a seed for what’s to come in 2024.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: What were YOU rooting for? A redeeming win for Gannon after he was vilified for the Eagles Super Bowl loss? Or a better draft pick? Personally, I was rooting for the pick. Not because there’s a particular guy I want near the top of the draft. I want options, as many as I can get. The higher you pick the more you have. Besides, the Cardinals had already proven they weren’t tanking. Murray had already played his best game since his return from injury. Conner and Wilson had already impacted the game. All of those things would still be true if they had lost.

That said, it’s impossible to not be happy for Gannon. He got entirely too much grief for how things ended in Philly; scapegoated to the point of absurdity. For his team to get the win and inject that level of insecurity and doubt into the fan base of his former employer has got to be immensely satisfying, whether he’ll admit it or not.

Speaking of satisfaction, Murray has to be feeling the rush of vindication after his performance, one in which he was nearly perfect in the second half of the game. I have no idea what the Cardinals would have done had they finished with the second pick in the draft – and who knows they still might – but it feels like that ship has sailed. Jumping from the 4th pick to the 2nd with one game left seems a mighty tall task. He quite possibly just played the Cardinals out of the possibility of drafting his replacement, and that was always the risk of playing him in the first place. But if they missed out on a possible quarterback AND Marvin Harrison Jr. then this will be a win that could reverberate for some time.

Luke Lapinski, co-host of Wolf & LukeNow Philly has a loss they can actually blame on Jonathan Gannon. And considering the storylines coming into this one and what was on the line for the Eagles, this has to be the Cardinals’ most impressive win since 2021. Did I mention it came on the road in an extremely hostile environment too?

Arizona didn’t punt once — just the second time they’ve managed that in 60 years. And aside from one long, potentially destructive pick six, the Cards torched Gannon’s former defense to the tune of 449 yards and 35 points. The same defense that Philadelphia fans so loudly proclaimed would be better off without JG this season.

All week long the Cardinals said they had to treat this just like any other game. That they couldn’t get too caught up in the Gannon-and-Nick-Rallis-going-back-to-Philly-on-New-Year’s-Eve storyline. And maybe that was true to a certain extent. But now that it’s over, you can’t tell me this win wasn’t just a little sweeter than most.

Granted, this isn’t great for Arizona’s draft position. The Cardinals just went from picking second to picking fourth with one game left and that likely means they won’t even be able to get Harrison in April. That’s significant. But Murray looked good, this depleted roster is 3-4 since he came back from a bad injury and they’re clearly still buying in and going all out for Gannon and this coaching staff. They finally have some intangibles working in their favor, and that definitely wasn’t the case at the end of the 2022 season.

Tyler Drake, Arizona Sports’ Cardinals reporter and Cardinals Corner co-host: Congratulations, Cardinals fans. You just watched Arizona’s defining win of 2023.

Jonathan Gannon returned to Philadelphia, stuck to his guns and walked out of with the biggest win of his career hands down. It’s a credit to the head coach’s mentality throughout the season of being where your feet are and playing for the guy next to you.

Everything this new regime has preached in Year 1 was on display on Sunday: Accountability, football character, grit, team-first mentality, violence and smarts.

Oh yeah, and Murray solidified his case as Arizona’s no-doubt franchise QB. Not only did he throw three second-half touchdowns, he lifted his teammates up despite some early miscommunication. He 100% fit the bill for what this team needs from its QB.

Give Conner his flowers if you haven’t already. He is very much the heart and soul of this offense and team as a whole. And when he eats, everyone else does.

Shoutout to Carter, too. The running back provided a great second punch to Conner and flashed his shiftiness. More of that moving forward, please.

Also, keep playing Dortch on offense!

Presented By
Western Governors University

Arizona Cardinals

Notre Dame offensive lineman Joe Alt runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, Mar...

Tom Kuebel

Cardinals could trade up to pick OL prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft

After an impressive showing by the offensive lineman at the 2024 NFL Draft Combine, the Cardinals might have to trade up from pick No. 27 to get a top prospect.

20 hours ago

Rome Odunze...

Alex Weiner

How did Rome Odunze measure at NFL Draft Combine after meeting with Cardinals?

Before taking the field to run the 40-yard dash, Rome Odunze met with several teams sitting atop the draft, including the Cardinals.

2 days ago

Olumuyiwa Fashanu...

Jesse Morrison

NFL Draft OL prospect Olu Fashanu had ‘smooth meeting’ with Cardinals, Jonathan Gannon

One of the top prospects in the NFL draft, offensive tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu seemed interested in the Cardinals at the NFL combine.

2 days ago

JC Latham...

Alex Weiner

Alabama OT JC Latham met with Cardinals, says playing with Kyler Murray would be a ‘dream’

JC Latham met with the Cardinals at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he was enthusiastic about the prospects of playing with Kyler Murray. 

2 days ago

Quinyon Mitchell runs 40-yard dash at combine...

Jesse Morrison

With Cardinals needing cornerback, Nate Wiggins, Quinyon Mitchell excel at NFL combine

The Arizona Cardinals need to address cornerback and two corners, Quinyon Mitchell and Nate Wiggins, showed out in Friday testing.

2 days ago

Terrion Arnold looks on...

Tyler Drake

‘He did jam me:’ Cardinals’ Jonathan Gannon goes 1-on-1 with Terrion Arnold at NFL Combine

Jonathan Gannon confirmed Terrion Arnold jammed him up during the defensive back's formal interview with the Cardinals at the NFL Combine.

2 days ago

Rapid reactions: Cardinals deliver early New Year’s gift to fans