Bickley: Cardinals suffer first failure of season against Panthers
A loss and a failure are not the same things. Here's proof:
The Arizona Cardinals suffered their second loss on Sunday. It was their first failure.
The honeymoon is officially over.
"Win, lose or whatever, there's a way that you play the game," defensive tackle Corey Peters said. "And today we failed."
This 18-point loss came against a Carolina Panthers' team without Cam Newton, a team that rolled up 38 points with backup quarterback Kyle Allen. That can't happen. Not against a kid who was cut from the Panthers' practice squad in 2018 and looking for a job at this time last year.
It came in the form of dropped passes. Christian Kirk muffed a perfectly-thrown deep ball. Trent Sherfield couldn't corral an easy touchdown pass. Once again, it appears Larry Fitzgerald is the only receiver capable of catching the ball downfield when the results matter.
"I felt like we were going to play better than we did, obviously," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I felt like we had a good plan in place. They came out and executed at a high level. You have to tip your hat to that team. Backs against the wall, they played a heck of a game.
"We've got to get better in every phase. We've got to coach better. We've got to play better. So there's a lot to be learned from that one."
The lessons came in the form of a porous offensive line that seemed to be conducting auditions at right tackle throughout the game. Generally, that's why you practice during the week, right? Either way, the line allowed Kyler Murray to get sacked eight times, raising a thorny question.
Can Kingsbury's preferred offensive approach find sustained success in the NFL? When you deploy four wide receivers on a preponderance of plays, there is very little help available for the offensive line. And this line looks like it needs some help, just like the previous editions.
This speaks to the overarching failure of General Manager Steve Keim in recent years. It's clear he drafted the right quarterback in Murray, but there's a reason Air Raid concepts are mostly a side dish in the NFL, and not a steady diet.
You have to run the ball to win in professional football. David Johnson was better on Sunday, breaking tackles and fighting for yardage. But he still gained only 37 yards, 32 less than the starting quarterback. And once the Cardinals got down, it got ugly.
"At that point, we were dropping back and they know we're passing the ball," Murray said. "So it's tough."
Murray played well until late in the second half, unveiling 69 rushing yards and the dual threat component that will be part of his ascension. But all four times the Cardinals scored on Sunday, the Panthers roared back on the ensuing possession, matching the hosts and then some.
That led to frustration and a lack of focus from their rookie quarterback, including two bad interceptions from Murray, who at least showed nice tackling form on one of the picks.
"Down 15, just trying to make a play, obviously forcing stuff," Murray said.
No one said this was going to be easy. Few expected a winning record in 2018. But this was a game the Cardinals could've and should've won, and the performance of their offensive line and their defense rekindled the biggest fears from training camp.
Allen had an absurd passer rating of 144.4. Christian McCaffrey nearly went untouched on a 76-yard touchdown run up the gut of the Cardinals' defense. And yet another tight end feasted on the Cardinals, making five touchdown receptions from opposing tight ends in three weeks, including two tight ends have exceeded 100 receiving yards against Arizona.
"It's unacceptable," Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks said.
The Cardinals now have one tie, one morale victory and one bad loss. They are 0-2-1 in a very competitive division. And after Sunday's performance, it will be a while before they are favored to win a football game in the near future.Reach Bickley at [email protected] Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona's Sports Station. Follow @danbickley
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