Dealing Cards: Tyrann Mathieu came close to big play, is getting closer to being back

Sep 26, 2016, 5:36 PM | Updated: 11:03 pm
Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) chases a fumbled ball as Buffalo Bills quarterbac...
Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) chases a fumbled ball as Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) looks on during the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Buffalo retained possession. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

TEMPE, Ariz. — It was oh-so-close to being the play the Arizona Cardinals needed to not only get back in their game against the Buffalo Bills, but possibly come back to win it.

But instead of Tyrann Mathieu returning a Tyrod Taylor fumble 65 yards or so for a touchdown, the ball a couple times bounced out of his reach before being kicked out of bounds.

There was a little more than 8 minutes remaining in the game at the time with the Cardinals down 30-16, and had Mathieu picked up the ball and taken it to the house, well, that would have been ideal. Instead, the Bills retained possession, and though their drive ended with a punt, the Cardinals failed to get within one score the rest of the way.

Often times, when the ball is bouncing around on the ground, players are instructed to just fall on it and secure possession. Not Mathieu.

“No. Pick it up and score,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday. “That’s what Tyrann does — a great play. It was really nice to see it because it looked like Tyrann again.”

It really was a great play, up until the very end.

Mathieu read what the Bills were doing, with Taylor rolling out as if he was going to run while also having an option to pitch the ball to Robert Woods. Mathieu burst into the backfield and nearly took the ball from the QB as he was tossing it, and since it was a backwards lateral, the bouncing ball was live.

“I guess I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Mathieu said Monday. “I mean, I’ve made those plays in my sleep; I don’t even have to look at the ball half the time, it just ends up in my hands.

“But for some reason, it didn’t bounce my way yesterday.”

There’s no guarantee that had Mathieu picked up the ball and scored the Cardinals would have come back to win the game. But it had the potential to be the kind of play that changed the tone of the afternoon, and it’s something Mathieu has shown a knack for over his first three NFL seasons.

As Arians said, while Mathieu was unable to complete the play, it was a glimpse of the player the safety was before tearing his ACL in Week 15 last year and perhaps another sign that he’s nearly rounding into form.

Mathieu spent more time near the line of scrimmage in Buffalo than he had the previous two weeks, and Arians said the 24-year-old is “getting close” to being himself.

Mathieu agrees.

“I feel like I’m getting closer,” he said. “Every week, after the game, it feels better. So I would hope that I’m getting real close, but at the end of the day I don’t really have a pinpoint date.

“But as games go on, I feel better, I’m getting more comfortable.”

Injury news

The biggest injury news concerns receiver Michael Floyd, whom Arians said will be put in the concussion protocol. He hit his head on the turf during the game and was cleared on the sidelines, but had a headache Monday morning so they are going to be safe. Tight end Troy Niklas suffered a wrist injury that Arians said “could be severe” and punter Drew Butler has a sprained Achilles and foot, which will also force him to miss some time. Guard Evan Mathis is improving, linebacker Kareem Martin may return to the field this week and defensive lineman Frostee Rucker is going to miss another week, Arians added.

Slow starts defy explanation

It’s not just that the Cardinals have yet to score a first quarter point. On Sunday, they did not record their first first down until the second quarter.

It was another uneven offensive performance from a team that has gained a reputation for being excellent at moving the football, and Arians started off his press conference by offering up his thoughts on the issue.

“Starting out fast, I thought our defense did a great job of setting up field position, getting a three-and-out, getting a sack, and we drop a pass,” he said. “It was as simple as that. You want to start fast? Catch the ball, because now you’re going to get points. So that, to me, was a big, critical play as far as starting fast, and I know everybody wants an answer to that question.”

Is it really as simple as Michael Floyd being unable to corral a pass that hit him right in the chest?

Maybe, because as Arians noted, a completion at the Buffalo 29 would have instantly put the Cardinals in field goal range, and set the tone for perhaps even more. Instead, it proved to be an ominous sign of what was to come.

So, how do they fix the problem?

“We’ve just got to go and play football,” left guard Mike Iupati said of the struggles. “And relax. Be relaxed. Just been doing it for a while so you know what to do. You’ve got to bring your A-game every snap.”

Palmer wasn’t great, but…

Carson Palmer was picked off four times Sunday — with all interceptions being thrown in the fourth quarter — and had a few other passes that could have been intercepted. Statistically, it was one of the worst games of his career, and certainly ranks at or near the bottom of his outings since joining the Cardinals in 2013.

Not all interceptions are created equal, however, and on at least a couple of the turnovers it appeared as if Palmer and his target were not on the same page. On anticipatory routes, Palmer will throw the ball expecting a receiver to be there, and if he’s not, the chances of an interception are heightened.

Arians, however, said the QB is responsible for the picks.

“Well, he threw them all. Yeah, they’re all on him,” he said. “He was expecting Michael Floyd to break in front of that guy on the flag route, which he should have. He gave Jaron (Brown) a 50-50 ball twice and stared the first one down. The second one — just didn’t get it high or deep enough. He was taking chances to try to get us back in the game. Up until those plays, he played pretty solid.”

Palmer finished the outing having completed 26-of-50 passes for 287 yards with no touchdowns and the four interceptions.

The coach went on to attribute some of the interceptions to Palmer forcing things in order to get the team back in the game, though he pointed out that the QB missed on some throws, too. But asked if this was the worst he’s ever seen Palmer play, he didn’t hesitate.

“No, because like I said, it was all in the fourth quarter when you’re trying to come back,” he said. “No, not at all.”

Butler is broken

Arians said the team’s punter will be out for a little while, and in the locker room Butler was wearing a boot around his ailing ankle and foot.

He said the Achilles injury was of the non-contact variety, and he called it a “freak injury thing” that prevented him from putting any weight on the foot.

While he did not punt the rest of the game, Butler did continue to serve as the holder on kicks and Arians said the plan will likely be to have him continue in that spot while adding someone else to handle punts.

How long Butler will be out has yet to be determined, as Arians said they’re not sure and Butler said they should have a better idea on Tuesday.

“Just come in here with the training staff, listen to them, do what they tell me to do and hopefully get back as soon as possible,” he said.

Butler said this injury, unlike the one he suffered Week 1 against New England, prevented him from even attempting to punt. He said it does not really impact holding, outside of certain circumstances, and unfortunately one of those occurred against Buffalo.

Late in the third quarter with the Cardinals trailing 23-7, Arizona lined up to attempt a 31-yard field goal from the Buffalo 12. Kameron Canaday’s snap sailed high over Butler’s head, and the punter was unable to help give chase. The Bills’ Aaron Williams recovered, and returned the ball 53 yards for a touchdown.

No one blamed Butler, and on Monday Arians said they will be evaluating the long snapper position while being mindful of a rib injury Canaday sustained in the game.

As the holder, Butler has worked with Canaday for a while now, and feels bad for his teammate.

“It just goes to the old wine and grapes saying,” he said. “Some days you drink the wine, and some days you squash the grapes, and that’s just the nature of the NFL — I learned that a long time ago.

“You’ve got to focus on the positives, can’t let the highs get too high and the lows get too low.”

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Dealing Cards: Tyrann Mathieu came close to big play, is getting closer to being back