As Jay-Z would rap, the Arizona Cardinals in 2020 are in an “Empire State of Mind.”
After the Cardinals halted their own 3 game losing streak and ended the Giants’ 4 game winning streak in “one single bound”— by virtue of beating the Jets and Giants at MetLife Stadium by a combined score of 56-17 and by beating the Bills 32-30 on the Hail Murray Holy Hop in Glendale—-the Cardinals have won the Empire State trifecta.
Having grown up in the NY metropolitan area—-and, thanks to my Uncle Michael, a NYC attorney who represented NYC detective Frank Serpico (immortalized by Al Pacino) and subsequently helped to spearhead the effort to crack down on police corruption by being named the leading attorney of the Knapp Commission—-yes, Uncle Michael, who took me to my first NFL game at the age of 8 on November 24, 1963, Cardinals vs. Giants at Yankee Stadium and then graciously accepted that I had fallen instantly in love with the Cardinals, thanks in large part to the acrobatic dare deviling of #8 FS Larry Wilson—-yesterday’s win over the Cardinals in New York felt very special to me, almost as if the game was another gift to me from my beloved uncle who watched the game from his box seats in heaven.
Uncle Michael would have called this game a “boat race.”
I didn’t know what the term “boat race” (a fixed horse race) until one Thanksgiving Uncle Mike regaled me and my sisters with the story of how in 1958 he and our aunt Joanie took my parents to Aqueduct Racetrack on the hottest day of the summer—-which promoted his old Buick to overheat on the Long Island Expressay—-
And finally after making it to the track, he told us that they proceeded to lose every race, even the 4th race where my grandmother always insisted that we bet on the 4th horse in the 4th race (boy oh boy it was uncanny how often that horse came in a winner!)—-
And thus, on the last race—-with only a $20 bill left in his wallet, Uncle Michael decided to bet it all on a 25-1 long shot named “Michael’s Shamrock.” Now—-what was hysterical about this wager was that the best finish that “Michael’s Shamrock” had ever had was 7th place—-plus, he was not like the other thoroughbreds in the race that were trained in Louisville, Kentucky—-no—-”Michael’s Shamarock” was trained in the Bronx—-of all places!
Amazingly, down the backstretch “Michael’s Shamrock” was neck and neck with the favorite, “Summer Breeze”, and at the wire it was a photo finish—-thus five minutes after “Michael’s Shamrock” was declared the upset winner, Uncle Michael said he found himself in the payout line with “every drunken Irishman at the track, save for an old Armenian fellow who stood next to him at the back of the line.
When Michael looked at the man with great curiosity, the man wasted no time and said, “it was a boat race.”
So, speaking of the 4th horse in the 4th race...the significance of this game swinging early in the Cardinals’ favor on the strip sack and fumble scoop by #44, former Giant, Markus Golden, felt especially surreal to me.
But, I would be remiss in this post-game reaction not to mention what an emotional Coney island roller ride this game was for me and perhaps many or even most Cardinals’ fans, starting with, as Yogi Berra would call a “deja vu all over again”, when the Cardinals came up empty on this offensive sequence following Golden’s golden strip sack and fumble scoop (thanks to ESPN’s play by play):
1st & Goal at NYG 9
- (12:57 - 1st) (Shotgun) K.Drake right tackle to NYG 6 for 3 yards (J.Peppers; C.Coughlin).
2nd & Goal at NYG 6
- (12:17 - 1st) (Shotgun) K.Murray pass short middle to C.Kirk to NYG 1 for 5 yards (B.Martinez).
3rd & Goal at NYG 1
- (11:32 - 1st) (Shotgun) K.Drake left guard to NYG 1 for no gain (D.Lawrence II; J.Love).
4th & 1 at NYG 1
- (10:49 - 1st) K.Murray pass incomplete short right to K.Johnson (J.Bradberry).
As many of us were well aware, for the first time possibly ever at the outset of a Week 14 game the Cardinals were ranked #1 in the NFL in Red Zone TD percentage (75.1%)—-and thus to watch the Cardinals, led by QB Kyler Murray (who was recently called a “Coney Island side show” by a national media pundit) squander all three of its initial trips into the Red Zone and only have 6 points to show for it—-felt especially tantalizing—-albeit a tad comforting to see Mike Nugent’s soft boot FG attempts waft right through the middle of the uprights.
But—-then on the kickoff following Nugent’s 2nd FG, the most fortuitous kick of the day came from the leg of kickoff cover man Kylie Fitts, who was jarred by a block just as he was nearing the return man and the block and Fitts’ subsequent kick on the football happened so fast that the refs didn't see it. Trent Sherfield was again the Johnny on the Spot and recovered the loose football.
This begs a question as mysterious as why the Mona Lisa appears to be smiling. Was Fitt’s kick intentionsl? Or was it the inadvertent result of getting jarred by the block at high speed and losing his balance?
Regardless—-it was a stunning turnover created by the Cardinals’ special teams—-which led to this Leonard Da Vinci-esque masterpiece was unveiled: (1:14 on this highlight video):
Murray’s back foot lob to TE Dan Arnold with two Giants’ defenders in his face manifests how special Kyler Murray is—-to throw this pass so perfectly to where only Dan Arnold can high point the point the ball—-is pure magic. It was like a mini-version of the Hail Murray as Arnold was surrounded by 4 Giants.
if you watched the entire highlight tape, did you notice the number of super-quick decisions that Kyler had to make—-like this cat quick improv pass to DeAndre Hopkins (thanks to @marblekyle):
Kliff moving Nuk around and Kyler utilizing the middle of the field https://t.co/OOyMiNIa4m— Kyle (@marblekyle) December 14, 2020
With the Cardinals up 13-0 and getting the second half kickoff, how many of you were still feeling very nervous?
After jumping ahead of the Patriots and Rams in recent weeks and then watching the momentum and the leads slip away—-a 13-0 lead versus the Giants seemed precarious, especially seeing as the Giants were down 5-0 to the Seahawks in SEA the week before and came back to win the game 17-12.
Therefore, how comforting was it to watch the Cardinals take the ball to start the 2nd half and methodically march down the field for 77 yards in 6:05 and then see Kenyan Drake following a 36 yard run, deliver a novel way fo scoring a 1 yard TD by leaping and high pointing the ball over the goal line?!
Feeling comfortable with the lead now?
How about after this quick answer by Daniel Jones and Golden Tate to make the score 20-7?
Even though this quick TD brought my nerves back with a jolt, what was at least comforting to me was seeing Byron Murphy so close to defending that pass—-just as he had perfectly times and broken up a similar deep pass earlier.
As we now know, the rest of the game was an utter sack fest by the Cardinals where they were able to tack on 2 more FGs and secure a 26-7 win.
After the game, I jumped on Twitter and one of the first tweets I read was from a Cardinals’ fan saying the game was “an ugly win”—-to which I tweeted:
Just saw a tweet from a Cards fan saying it was an ugly win. Cards dominated in all 3 phases over a team that had won 4 in row, coming off their superb 17-12 win at SEA. If today's game was ugly...I would marry that kind of ugly and live happily ever after.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) December 13, 2020
After that, I read a number of fans and pundits (Bickley) state that the Cardinals win was against a “bad Team”—-to which I tweeted:
SEA (home L) vs. NYG: 70 plays, 327 yds., 10 pts., 2 to's, Wilson 78.0 QBR.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) December 14, 2020
ARI (away W) vs. NYG: 79 plays, 390 yds., 26 pts., 0 to's, Murray 97.8 QBR.
But numbers of Cardinals' fans complaining---showing little respect for NYG's defense. As if putting up these numbers was easy.
Then the conversations quickly turned to the stellar, record setting 5 sack three forced fumble performance by Haason Reddick—-and when an edge rusher puts this kind of a rush on tape (thanks to @jarodgoria)...versus Andrew Thomas (6-6, 316) the #4 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft who had been playing very well during the Giants’ 4 game winning streak...
...then this edge rusher, I can guarantee you, is going to get handsomely paid, because quick, explosive pass rushers are always in vogue and will always command high salaries.
Thus, I opined this:
Haason Reddick a shoe-in for NFC DPOW. Cards will have to franchise tag him if they don't get a deal done before FA. That would mean they would need Chandler Jones to agree to a 2021 restructure ($20.8M on cap) and reasonable extension at age 31. Only $5.3M to let him go.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) December 13, 2020
I hope that the Cardinals and Chandler jones can work out a restructure via a contact extension because i do not believe they can afford to play Jones #20.8M next year and put the franchise tag on Reddick, which for edge rushers is between $15M-$16M.
Thus, when a number of fans wrote that there is no way that Reddick deserves the franchise tag, I wrote:
If Cards can't get a deal done before FA, they absolutely have to place the f-tag on H. Reddick to be able to match other offers or get draft picks in return. Reddick is a 21st C 3 down LB who is dynamic in pass rush, quick to the ball in run support and sticky in coverage.— Walter B J Mitchell (@WBJMItch) December 14, 2020
I think that Haason Reddick will get a 3 year contract similar to D.J. Humphries’ at $45M, with $20M guaranteed. Reddick shared his tears of joy with DC Vance Joseph, whom Haason credits for turning his career around—-while Haason wa also very praising of Cardinals pass rush coaches Charlie Bullen and Brentson Buckner for helping him refine his technique this past week. Vance Joseph has called Haason “the perfect 34 SAM OLB.”
What a dream come true for the young man who grew up in the NY metropolitan area, who was a weak-on at Temple who earned a scholarship and stardom before getting drafted in Philadelphia by the Cardinals with #15 pick of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Yup—-Haason Reddick—-can relate to Jay-Z because #43 is in an Empire State of Mind:
“Even if it ain’t all it seems, I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby I’m from New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Hear it for New York, New York, New York”
Encouraging Developments for Arizona:
- This was a long, yearned for game where all 3 phases excelled in clutch, timely fashion.
- Cardinals Offense: (1) got the kind of balance they wanted; (2) Kyler was more decisive running the ball and making snap decisions under pressure; (3) there were times when Kliff Kingsbury passed the ball when he typically might have run the ball instead—-it’s so key for the Cardinals to try to advance the ball beyond the sticks as early in downs as possible; (4) moving DeAndre Hopkins around was very effective, as was putting Maxx Williams in the backfield to help protect Kyler..
- Cardinals’ Defense: (1) one week after failing to defend the Rams’ bread and butter plays, Vance Joseph and the players took a page out of the Rams’ style of defense by ratcheting up the pressure in the pass rush while playing pesky man to man coverage; (2) quite a few of the Cardinals’ sacks were coverage sacks—-therefore, kudos to Dre Kitkpatrick (best game as a Cardinal, imo), Patrick Peterson and Byron Murphy for their best performance of the season; (3) with the lead Joseph and the defense did not revert to 3 man rushes and soft zones; (4) they put the clamps on the Giants’ improved running game that features Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris.
- Cardinals” Special Teams: (1) Mike Nugent calmly made 4/4 on his FGs 9the missed 55 yarder didn’t count) and it may actually be good for the Cardinals to want to advance the ball well within Nugent’s range (assuming her retains the job); (2) the kick coverage teams got back to pasting the return men; (3) Andy Lee helped the Cardinals maintain their consistent field position advantage; (4) Christian Kirk discovered his mojo as the punt returner, turning in his best, most aggressive collection of returns.
With he Eagles upsetting the #1 NFC seeded Saints (heading into the game) with dual-threat rookie QB Jalen Hurts making his first start, the Cardinals cannot afford to take this week’s game lightly—-not only do the Eagles have a host of skilled players on offense, their defense, even banged up in the secondary, is physical up front and quick to the ball at the 2nd and 3rd levels. Cards have to throw the team records out the window and be ready for another dog fight.