GLENDALE, Ariz. — The pendulum does swing both ways.
For as good as the Arizona Cardinals looked at times in their first two preseason games, they looked just as bad at times during their third.
The offense mustered just 298 total net yards while converting on just 3-of-13 third down attempts, with some passes being dropped by receivers and others sailing over their heads. There was also a pick-six, the result of a miscommunication between Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald.
On the other side of the ball, the defense, while not allowing a touchdown, struggled to get off the field at times. Head coach Bruce Arians called out his team’s pass rush and the inability to get to the quarterback without bringing a blitz.
And even special teams wasn’t immune Sunday, as Jay Feely missed a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter.
As far as performances go, this one was rather forgettable.
“We’re going to go back and watch the tape of it tomorrow, and being able to take some things and get better at them,” left tackle Jared Veldheer said. “That’s the whole point, just being able to make those corrections before the season hits, and if you can make those adjustments then you get something out of it.”
If you are into silver linings, you might say it’s better to get a clunker like this one out of the way when it doesn’t impact the standings. Just like how the Cardinals’ 32-0 thrashing of the Houston Texans in the preseason opener did not mean Arizona was destined to become the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl its city is hosting, Sunday’s ugly loss to the Bengals does not doom Arizona to the bottom of a very competitive NFC West.
Arians said he would be more concerned with Sunday’s loss if the problems had been present all of camp, but given how well the team had been playing, he doesn’t appear inclined to overreact.
Besides, it wasn’t all bad. The running game clearly benefitted from Andre Ellington’s role being increased, as he gained 46 yards on nine carries. John Brown rebounded from a rough start to catch four passes for 56 yards, including a diving 30-yard touchdown catch on a Drew Stanton pass. Fitzgerald also caught three passes for a team-best 71 yards, and the defense did keep the Bengals out of the end zone.
“It was a very quality opponent,” Arians admitted. “It was a 6-3 game if we don’t throw a pick-six. Those are the things that I’m taking away. We gave it to a pretty good football team and you can’t do that, especially at home. We did come out injury-free, but again, we play the game to win the game and we didn’t get it done.”
Yes, at least the Cardinals left with their health, if not a victory. And in a way, especially how things have gone for the Cardinals over the last week or so, that’s something to be happy about.
However, there’s no doubt that the sooner the team can move on from this one, the better. The Cardinals have one preseason game left Thursday before it all starts to count on Monday, Sept. 8, in a home game against the San Diego Chargers.
Defensive end Calais Campbell said at that point, this loss will be “just a distant memory.”
Whether things look great or bad, preseason is a dress rehearsal, as Campbell termed it, and not necessarily a harbinger of what’s to come. And even if it was, Sunday could be interpreted as little more than a small speed bump in what has otherwise been a pretty solid and impressive preseason for the team.
Perhaps the Cardinals needed it, if only to humble them ever so slightly as they get closer to the regular season.
“It’s the NFL, there’s going to be times where you’re going to be playing well and there are going to be times where sometimes the ball is just not bouncing your way,” Fitzgerald said. “But you have to be able to weather the storm. We didn’t have our best performance by any stretch of the imagination today, but we have time to improve.
“We have another preseason game before we start the real games, and I’m glad we had a little bit of adversity, a little bit of a struggle today. The test for us is how we’re going to be able to respond.”