What is it about expectations in this town?
What is it about expectations in this town, anyway? The minute you attach the slightest anticipation of success to a team around here, it’s like handing a brick to the guy in the lake.
First, it was Kirk Herbstreit picking ASU to make the College Football Playoff a year ago. Then the D-backs paying big bucks and big prospects to supposedly upgrade their rotation.
Now a quarter of the way through a Cardinals season which was teased with the series “All or Nothing,” it’s shockingly looking like the same old story.
We can play the hindsight game on the 2015 Sun Devils and 2016 D-backs and agree that their upside and potential was oversold — that we, and others, were guilty of overselling it. But you cannot and will not convince me that is the case of the 2016 Arizona Cardinals. There is no rational reason to think that they were anything but one of the best teams in the NFL who were capable of winning a Super Bowl. Just about everybody believed it and expected as much.
And yet here we are. 1-3. Last in the division. Losses to Jimmy Garoppolo, Tyrod Taylor and Case Keenum. Carson Palmer is in the concussion protocol with another divisional game in just four days. It’s still warm enough outside that I’m running my AC and yet they’ve already lost as many games as all of last year.
How did we get here? Here’s what stood out to me from the loss to the Rams.
Penalties, turnovers and just plain bad luck. A holding call on Patrick Peterson kept a drive alive for the Rams that ended with a touchdown. A Jermaine Gresham holding call killed a Chris Johnson touchdown and led to a field goal instead. Some kind of a blown assignment allowed Brian Quick to gain 34 yards; that led to a field goal. Arizona lost the turnover battle 5-1. A sack that pushed the Cards out of field goal range. And just plain bad luck. On the punt return near the end of the game that set the Rams up with terrific field position, Justin Bethel told Kent Somers of azcentral.com that he was poked in the eye and couldn’t see. The team’s top gunner was in the dark for one of the biggest plays of the game.
So many chances. Yeah, Palmer’s injury hurt, but before the hit that ended his day, the Cardinals had plenty of chances. Take the three consecutive drives in the second half that all ended in Rams territory. One ended with a field goal, despite a first-and-goal from the four. The others ended with a Palmer strip-sack fumble and the David Johnson fumble. Three drives that went as far as the Rams’ 4-, 26- and 42-yard line and nothing to show for it but three points and two turnovers. One touchdown in three red zone trips for the game. Not good enough.
What’s the protocol? Bruce Arians confirmed Palmer is now in the concussion protocol and that they will be cautious with him for the short week. Having him ready by Thursday seems like a tough ask. Chances are this indisputable must win contest against the 49ers will be quarterbacked by Drew Stanton. When Palmer injured his knee vs. the Rams in 2014, Stanton came in with 11:28 to play, trailing 14-10. His 48 yard scoring pass to John Brown that day seemed to send the message that everything was going to be okay. That message was not sent or received on Sunday thanks to the two picks in the 4th quarter. Let’s see what he has on Thursday.
What am I taking off the table? After the loss to the Bills, I shocked Gambo by taking homefield advantage throughout the playoffs off the table. Just didn’t think it was possible. Now, what am I taking off table? Well, some have suggested I cancel the dinner or just remove the table entirely. I won’t go that far…yet. I’m pretty sure the division is off the table, but I’m not ready to commit to that. I’m struggling with everything else for this simple fact: Seattle started 2-4 last year and ended as one of the most feared teams in the NFL. It can happen. Not saying it will, just saying it can.
Jeff Fisher is not going 7-9. I guess not. We’ve had a lot of fun at his expense for what he said during Hard Knocks. It was just that….fun. Credit is obviously due. The Rams have a supremely talented defensive line; Aaron Donald is some kind of a monster. The Cards outgained the Rams 420-288 and won the first-down battle by a whopping 26-12. But the Rams turned it into a street fight and the Cardinals couldn’t respond.