As we continue our series counting down to preseason kickoff and rewinding through all of the ups and downs of the 2014 Arizona Cardinals campaign we hit our first down spot in the season. This was the game that the unbeaten defense and the offensive juggernaut which was the early season Denver Broncos clashed in Mile High stadium and we got our first glimpses of what Logan Thomas could do in the regular season.
To recap the team was coming out of an early bye week and Carson Palmer was rehabbing his shoulder with questions marks about how long it would take for his return to the field. The Cardinals were fresh off of a win with Drew Stanton under center and the team beat a bitter division rival for the first time since 2011.
The team came in undefeated and knew that it would take a big offensive day, but more importantly a big defensive day to stop the high flying Denver offense as Peyton Manning and his many weapons were lighting up the score boards going into week 5.
The contest started out with both teams keeping it close and through the end of the first half the teams seemed to be playing chess with each other taking what they could get. Peyton Manning was on his quest to score his 500th career touchdown and the Cardinals were going to do everything they could to put as many points on the board and keep up.
The first quarter ended with Peyton Manning throwing one touchdown to Julius Thomas and Cardinals rookie kicker Chandler Catanzaro had put up a pair of field goals to make it 6-7. In the second quarter Manning was able to get a deep strike to Demaryius Thomas on his first of two touchdowns for the day to edge the score to 6-14. Surprisingly, Calais Campbell was a huge thorn in the Broncos left side of the offensive line and was repeatedly getting pressure on Manning, so much so that Campbell intercepted a bullet pass from Manning and returned it to the five yard line.
One of the most memorable and classy moves of the game was a moment when the 6' 8", 300 pound defensive end is running his interception back and has a moment to either try to score a touchdown or lay a huge legal hit on Peyton Manning who is trying to block Campbell's path to the end zone. Campbell hesitates momentarily and tries to juke Manning for the score rather than running directly into him. I have to say that to this day I still think about how much of a stand up guy Campbell was for not plowing directly into Manning there. As a Cardinals fan, I wish he would have (for reasons we can discuss in the comments), but as a fan of the game I'm glad he did not. That could have been a play which injured a great player especially if you rewatch it, Manning was in no position to defend himself if Campbell had tucked the ball and put his head down into the defender.
Following the run back Andre Ellington is able to run in an easy touchdown and the score was suddenly 13-14 and even the announcers were surprised that this was a tight ball game. But it was quickly answered by Manning with an 86 yard score to Demaryius Thomas on a busted coverage play where Antonio Cromartie was simply bested by a very fast and athletic receiver, the score 13-21 going into the half.
In the third quarter the Cardinals defense made adjustments and came out swinging. The AZ Defense was able to hold the Broncos to their first field goal of the game, 13-24. Then tragically the Cardinals lost Drew Stanton to a concussion which gave Logan Thomas a chance to throw his first pass which was an 81 yard touchdown pass to Andre Ellington to bring the Cardinals as close as they would come in points for the rest of the game at 20-24. Thomas would then be ineffective for the rest of the day.
The third quarter was highlighted by the very un-classy chop block of Campbell which strained his MCL removing him from the game and requiring a couple of weeks of recovery. Not to derail this rewind too greatly, but the combination of plays between Campbell's ability to lay a fair hit on a player (Manning) and not taking it when compared to Julius Thomas' chop block using an illegal hit against a player unable to defend himself really changed my view of the 2014 Broncos organization. Regardless of what team you root for, that play looked and had the feel of a called chop block to remove Campbell from the game. Comparing the two situations between Campbell not laying flat Peyton Manning and potentially removing him from the game versus the appearance of a called play to remove Campbell made it look like the Broncos were dirty.
For the remainder of 2014 I didn't care if the Denver Bronco lit up scoreboards, I often thought of them as a dirty team. The game was close and the Cardinals were really putting a lot of pressure on Peyton Manning until the chop block, called or not, was executed and Campbell was lost for the game.
Stack that up with a long list of other injuries and the Cardinals lost their ability to compete in Mile High that week and Peyton Manning and his offense had a career day. It's amazing what you can achieve when a dirty play takes out a great player.
But I digress ...
The fourth quarter was filled with two more Bronco touchdowns and one field goal with a very sad final score of 20-41 breaking the Cardinals win streak. Peyton Manning did hit his 500th career touchdown, as well as a few more to pad his stat line.
Some helpful reminders of Coach Bruce Arians after the game are below (source):
"I've been coaching 37 years, (and) it's the dirtiest play I've ever seen in the National Football League," Arians said. "It was a flat chop block and it put him out of the game. I've never seen anything like it.
"Somebody has got to answer to that. A fine isn't going to do it when he's going to miss three to four weeks."
Asked what the NFL should do to the offending players, Arians said, "I don't know. They'll fine the guy, but what do we get? We don't get anything. We lose our guy for two to three weeks, maybe four."