TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals had just coughed up a 14-point fourth quarter lead and had the ball at their own 16 with just 58 seconds left in a tied game.
They also had no timeouts, and while a field goal would have won it, there are many coaches who would have — especially at home — taken all those factors into consideration and allowed the game to go to overtime.
But not Bruce Arians.
Arians had Cardinals QB Carson Palmer line up in the shotgun and on the first play from scrimmage, he hit receiver J.J. Nelson for a 19-yard gain. Consecutive passes to Larry Fitzgerald, one for 18 yards and the other 20, got the Cardinals to the Bengals’ 27, and three plays later Chandler Catanzaro was putting a 32-yard field goal attempt through the uprights, making the Cardinals and their head coach a 34-31 winner.
Indeed, all’s well that ends well, but had Palmer thrown his third interception of the game or the Cardinals made some other devastating mistake, Arians’ decision to try and push the ball down the field in the final minute would have come into question.
“Any other coach would have probably taken their chances in overtime,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “Not our coach. He was throwing the football and we’re looking back like, ‘Uhh, I hope somebody’s open, I hope somebody catches this ball.’
“But some big-time plays by Carson, the one J.J. caught, Fitz and Cat kicking that field goal and then dabbing on him so it was a big-time win, man. We’re proud of ourselves.”
As Arians says, no risk it, no biscuit, and Sunday, the Cardinals earned a biscuit.
“I think some of the defensive guys were holding onto their ass, ‘What are you doing, Coach?,'” Arians said of what his team thinks of the style. “But they know me too well now, and I think they trust Carson also. It’s a trust factor.
“Will you lose one? Possibly. But you’re not going to win one unless you try.”
And that’s just it.
Over the course of Arians’ tenure in Arizona, there have been times where his aggressive nature has led to people shaking their heads and wondering what he was thinking. It’s easy to second-guess a coach when a play doesn’t work, and most of the time even the players will say it’s on them to make the call work, not the other way around.
Every play is designed to work, after all, and for the most part, you can present a valid reason for why a coach called the play he did at any given time. The decision to try and win the game in regulation Sunday was made with reasons in mind.
“That’s the thing,” he said of his thought process. “If you kneel down or run a draw and see what happens, the game’s over. You roll the dice on overtime. I trust our guys to execute.
“Normally, with the first play, you’re not going to get a strong pass rush because they’re thinking draw and screen, and you get a chance to shoot one down the field and get a 20-yard gain and get rolling.”
In other words, there’s a method to the madness. There’s a reason for it, too.
Arians’ style has led to more than just some exciting moments late in games; it has fostered a level of confidence that continues to aid the Cardinals. It’s a lot easier to believe in yourself if your coach believes in you, and Arians said his players were appreciative of being trusted with the game on the line.
Then again, it’s also easier for a coach to trust his players when the players come through for the coach.
“Whether it’s third down, red zone or end of game, you’ve got to be smart,” Palmer said. “He trusted me to be smart at the end and get us somewhere near field goal range, and we did a great job of doing that.”
Arians trusts his players because his players have earned his trust. It’s a positive cycle that has helped lead the Cardinals to an 8-2 record this season as well as 29 wins in 42 games since the coach took over in 2013.
Have there been times where things haven’t worked out? Absolutely, and as Arians himself said, it’s very possible his approach will lead to a loss down the road.
But until that time comes — and probably even after it does — the Cardinals will continue to press on while pressing the envelope. They really wouldn’t have it any other way.
“No, probably not like him,” rookie linebacker Markus Golden said when asked if he’s ever played for a coach with Arians’ mentality. “He’s got a lot of confidence, a lot of swag, so you want to play for a coach like him.
“We want to play to win and that’s the type of coach he is.”
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