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ARI 37 SEA 34: The Cardshank Redemption

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

ARI 37 SEA 34 OT: The Cardshank Redemption

I haven’t received post-midnight EDT texts too often in recent years, but last night was an exception. My friends and family are suddenly very excited about the Cardinals and wanted to share in the pure joy of what transpired on “America’s SNF Game” on NBC last night.

One of the most exciting and encouraging things I heard last night was Cris Collinsworth saying even when the Cardinals were behind in the 4th quarter 34-24 was “win or lose, the Cardinals are showing the heart of a champion tonight.”

As long-time Cardinals’ fans know, Cris Collinsworth has rarely bought into flashes of success from the Cardinals, especially during their lone Super Bowl run.

This time feels different.

Thus, to hear how captivated Collinsworth was by the Cardinals’ effort in this game, felt like manna to my ears.

Amazing to think that this game was only the Cardinals’ 3rd home game of the season---it hadn’t played at home since the disappointing last second loss to the Lions back in Week 3.

Amazing too to think that to this point the Cardinals have played half of their away games already---going 3-1 on the road, losing only to Carolina in the one game that Budda Baker missed.

Maybe I am in a minority, but I think it is amazing that the Cardinals in just year two of the Kingsbury/Joseph/Murray/Baker tenure they managed to shoo the ospreys out of their home nest following 7 straight tantalizing losses to Russell Wilson and their perennially strong NFC West rivals.

I think I may be in the minority as well in my mode of thinking that at this point in Kingsbury’s and Murray’s development as HC/QB leaders I fully expect there to be some growing pains and on-the-job lessons.

I am kind of amazed at how critical so many pundits and fans are---many of whom would have never said boo about the veteran combo of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer.

Yes, the play calling during the drive that cut the Seahawks’ lead to 34-31 was almost as if Kingsbury was trying to run out the clock only being down by 3. Like many of you, I imagine, I was yelling over and over “come on let’s go” “the clock is ticking.”

But the Cardinals got one of their biggest breaks of the game when former Cardinal DE Benson Mayowa incurred an off-sides and 15 yard leverage penalty on Zane Gonzalez’s long FG that would have made the score 34-27.

One cannot forget how the Seahawks got away with a leverage violation to block a FG way back when during the notorious 6-6 OT tie.

The Seahawks know better than any other team how to try to spoil a kicker’s concentration---how many missed FGs or XPTs have the Seahawks gotten away with over the years???---like Blair Walsh’s missed chipped shot that would have won the playoff game for the Vikings a few years back.

And they did it again---while the Mayowa penalty led to a Cardinals’ TD to make the score 34-31 instead of 34-27, that disruption, plus the consistent pressure the Seahawks were getting from the edge rusher to Zane’s right---plus the Cardinals somehow once again in a critical FG situation lost track of the play clock and had to call a timeout---all led to Zane’s one miss of the night---and at the time it had wary Cardinals’ fans haunted by the same old osprey ghosts---and the feeling that no matter what---by the end of the night, the ospreys will maintain their annual rule of the Cardinals’ nest.

While I am still trying to understand how a veteran holder like Andy Lee could not be aware of the play clock in that critical situation of the game---I am feeling fully cognizant of the fact that if Zane Gonzalez hadn’t have nailed the 44 yard FG just inside the left upright at the end of regulation, the OT FGs would have been moot.

If there was one time to miss the FG in this game---it was with 2:47 left in OT---thanks to an array of clutch pressure plays by the Cardinals’ suddenly all-out aggressive and QB-confusing defense that culminated in Isaiah Simmons’ game changing interception.

At the time the missed FG felt like doom---just as it felt like doom when the Cardinals’ finally had their first chance to take the lead with the score 27-24 and on 1st down Kyler Murray made his biggest mistake of the night, throwing his lone interception.

After that mistake, Kyler Murray played about as well and about as clutch as he ever has in his 23 games in the NFL.

After Kliff Kingsbury’s far too conservative play calling with the team down 34-24---he too made key adjustments.

After Vance Joseph heeded the suggestions of his players at half-time to amp up the pressure on Russell Wilson, he saved his most brilliant play calling of the night for when it mattered most. Plus, he had the guts to play the young ILB tandem of Tanner Vallejo and Isaiah Simmons when the stakes couldn’t have been higher.

Going back to training camp---after watching the linebacker drills, I made the observation that Vallejo was displaying the quickest feet---and right then it inspired me to predict that he would make the roster. The thing is---Vallejo runs downhill to the football and gets there faster than any LB on the team---something that Jordan Hicks (who showed the slowest feet in the drills) has been failing to do in favor of letting the RBs come to him 5-7 yards down field---and when Hicks has moved with the flow on running plays, De’Vondre Campbell has had a number of clear and easy fills to take away the cutback lane, and yet he has failed in that responsibility far too often, as he did again last night.

Could Tanner Vallejo become this year’s “J-Walker”? Remember what a boost he gave the defense when VJ moved Haason Reddick to OLB and Joe Walker started making downhill tackles from ILB on the ball?

Will Isaiah Simmons be given more of a chance to add his physical gifts to the defense?

Boy, did you see how quick he and Vallejo were in breaking back to the hook lanes from their two point stances over the A gaps?

As we have seen from the Seahawks and other very good linebacking crews in the NFL, in this day and age, speed to the football wins, both forcing the run and defending the pass.

The other huge break the Cardinals got in this game was the offensive holding call that WR David Moore incurred on CB Kevin Peterson that nullified the potential game winning 48 yard hitch screen TD on 3rd and 10 to D.K. Metcalf.

To lose the game on that play would have been in many ways an injustice to Patrick Peterson who once again held Metcalf to startlingly low numbers: 2 catches for 23 yards.

But, this is where teams like to pick on Peterson’s side to test his tackling willingness---Peterson was late to get a jump on the hitch pass and then once he did make his move, he got taken out by an outstanding cut block by superstar WR Tyler Lockett. That meant that if David Moore could cut off Kevin Peterson, Metcalf would be off to the races.

Credit Kevin Peterson for trying to fight through the hold---otherwise the referee might not have seen the hold. This was so HUGE!

I give a lot of credit to how hard Dre Kirkpatrick tried to dog and cover Lockett. There aren’t many CBs in the NFL who can effectively shadow the quick and speedy Lockett. Patrick Peterson had two of the best three coverages on Lockett all night and both passes were thrown with such uncanny precision with Lockett’s one-handed grab on the first play from scrimmage and on the scintillating 47 yard TD strike at the end of the 2nd quarter to put the Seahawks up 27-17 at half time.

Kirkpatrick was limited in practice all week because of a foot injury—-which makes his determined effort all the more impressive.

I was surprised that VJ didn’t try to match Byron Murphy on Lockett from time to time. By the time the Cardinals play the Seahawks on November 19th, one has wonder what the plan will be to try to prevent Lockett from having another 200 yard performance. It’s hard to double team Lockett on his crossing routes because as the Cardinals saw, if you leave the middle open, Russell Wilson will take off. I wonder if Prince Amukamara can help. And/or---I wonder if Steve Keim is targeting a CB in trade talks.

As I have said on numerous occasions, when a player hustles his butt off like Kirkpatrick did in this game---one really can’t fault the effort. His best coverage of the night was on the incredible “moon ball” throw that Wilson made on 4th and goal that took a perfect dime and exact timing in order for Lockett to catch it, secure it and scrape his toes within an inch of the end line.

I have to say after that TD, illuminated ghosts of Santonio Holmes were floating through the darkest halls of my brain.

To think that the Cardinals prevailed in a game where Russell Wilson delivered an array of perfect throws---says a lot about the Cardinals’ perseverance and how far they have come over the course of 23 games. Wilson, Carroll, Wagner and Wright have been together for 9 years and this is Lockett’s 6th year.

By the end of the game, the Seahawks’ defense was spent. Trying to contain Kyler Murray (perhaps his best complete game performance of the season) and the Cardinals’ cadre of skill players like WR DeAndre Hopkins (what a thing of beauty his 35 yard fade route TD was---all set up by a fake out from the offensive line all looking to their right), RB Chase Edmonds (slipping and dashing his way for 145 combined rushing and receiving yards), WR Larry Fitzgerald (8 catches for 62 yards), TE Dan Arnold (2 catches for 57 yards) and WR Christian Kirk (2 nifty TDs) had the ospreys gasping for air and losing their dominion over the nest.

Credit the Cardinals’ offensive line for once again wearing down the opposition deep into the 4th quarter and in overtime (159 yards rushing @ 4.8 ave. and 360 yards passing---37 points and 0 sacks).

When the offense had to produce points when they mattered the most---like Domino’s Pizza and wide-beaked storks---they delivered.

While RB Kenyan Drake’s production has been up and down during some games this year---his sheer toughness was on full display last night in that second half, especially in converting the 4th and 1 at the Seahawks’ 45 yard line on his 2 yard, injury-inducing hammer run. Hopefully he can bounce back quickly because he and Chase Edmonds form a good, complimentary RB tandem---which is what every team needs in the NFL today.

Haason Reddick is proving to be the best edge player on the team this year because he is the only edge player thus far who understands how to contain an athletic QB like Russell Wilson. Haason is quickly becoming a must re-sign UFA for the Cardinals, who still have to be kicking themselves for the three years they hindered him.

Devon Kennard was unable to contain Wilson from the opposite side. He seems to be a little hampered by his calf injury, but in general, VJ will have to consider using a quicker athlete on the edge opposite Haason. Kylie Fitts, who has been battling a sore hamstring was a little more effective later in the game---but one has to wonder whether it’s time to give Dennis Gardeck a more prominent role on the edge---not just as a nickel rusher but in the team’s base defense. His speed and nose for the ball could help take the defense to an even higher level.

Markus Golden should help as a nickel rusher, but he is not as athletic on the edge as Gardeck, Fitts (when healthy) and/or perhaps De’Vondre Campbell (if they use Vallejo and Simmons more at ILB).

But these days, the Cardinals’ success not only points to Kyler Murray leading the offense, but equally so to Budda Baker leading the defense. Baker was again all over the field making plays and he is the tone setter who gets his teammates fired up and in a mindset of following suit. He amassed 14 tackles (11 solo), 1 1/2 tackles for loss, 2 passes defended and 1 interception (2nd in 2 games).

Thus at 12:20 AM in Massachusetts last night, as I was trying to catch my own breath and feeling the utter joy of watching our Cardinals finally manage to shoo the ospreys out of our home nest---all I could think of tweeting is this:

For me on this night, the Andy and Red duo who “crawled to freedom through five-hundred yards of sh^& smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want too”...and “came out clean on the other side” was Kliff and Vance.

Two of the more innocent and wrongly accused inmates at Cardshank.

But then again, as everyone knows, all of the inmates at Cardshank are innocent.

“All they found of them were muddy sets of prison clothes, a bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I used to think it would take six more years for the Cardinals to beat Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll at home. Old Kliff and Vance did it in less than three.”