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Real or mirage?: What to make of the Cardinals Week 1 blowout win

What an incredible start to the season. But we’ve been fooled by this team before. Let’s discuss whether what we saw was real or possibly a mirage.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans
Chandler Jones and the Cardinals defense made a huge statement on Sunday. Was it the announcement of a legit contender?
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you thought the Cardinals would be able to go to the East Coast and blow out a team expected to contend in Week 1.

You’ll notice my hand isn’t raised. I thought it would be a close game but didn’t quite think this Cardinals team was ready to win in a spot like that, much less utterly dominate. Very happy to be wrong about that.

But before Cardinals fans get too far ahead of themselves, let’s stop, take a deep breath, and consider whether everything we saw on Sunday was for real, or if some of it was possibly a mirage. We’ve definitely been fooled here in the desert before, as last season’s 6-3 start proved to be a mirage. Let’s just make sure we’re not in for a similar fate this season.

Real or mirage: Kyler Murray is an MVP candidate.

Kyler might very well win his fifth NFC Offensive Player of the Week award after shredding the Titans for 289 yards through the air and 5 combined TDs (4 passing, 1 rushing). He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award two seasons ago, then followed it up last season with a Pro Bowl appearance. He’s already got plenty of NFL hardware on his mantel. But could he be adding an even more prestigious award to his collection this season?

It’s definitely within the realm of possibility. He’ll have to fend off a cadre of other talented passers, with Dak, Brady, Russ, and Mahomes already announcing their candidacy in Week 1. But if Kyler continues to put up video game numbers and the Cardinals are contenders in the NFC West? It’ll be hard to vote against him.

Verdict: Real.

Real or mirage: Kliff Kingsbury has figured it all out.

No one would really say Kingsbury was on the hot seat heading into the season, but it seems pretty clear that management expects postseason success in his and Kyler’s third season together. So before Sunday, his seat wasn’t exactly cool. Now? Now he’s on one of those air conditioned seats you get in fancy modern cars. But does that mean he’s figured it all out as an NFL head coach?

I definitely hope so. But many Cardinals fans were rolling their eyes and muttering “Same old Cardinals” for most of that 1st quarter. The penalties. The timeouts. Tons of kudos for Kliff and the team for righting the ship and putting those miscues behind them, especially in a hostile environment, but I still worry that penalties and game management issues will cost us games this season. I need to see a clean game or two before I can say this one is for real.

Verdict: Mirage… for now.

Real or mirage: Chandler Jones is a DPOY candidate.

I said above that Kyler “might very well” win the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award. Well, it’s a certainty that Jones will win the defensive equivalent after completely mauling Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan for 5(!) sacks of Ryan Tannehill. Who needs Haason Reddick, am I right? Many wondered (including yours truly) whether Jones would be the same force he was before last season’s biceps injury, and he authoritatively proved that he’s still one of the elite pass rushers in the league… and that he’s still worth big money. (That’s a topic for another day.)

Jones should once again spearhead a formidable pass rush with J.J. Watt, Markus Golden, Devon Kennard, Dennis Gardeck (who didn’t even play and is out for at least a few weeks) and others chipping in as needed. I don’t know if we’ll see another 5-sack game out of him, but you never know.

Verdict: Real.

Real or mirage: Our CB problems are solved.

Let’s try the “raise your hand” thing again. Raise your hand if you predicted that *checks notes* Chester Rogers would be the Titans leading receiver on Sunday. *looks around the room* I didn’t think so. The play of the Cardinals CBs was easily the most surprising development of Week 1 for me. Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson, and Robert Alford(!) held A.J. Brown and Julio Jones to a combined 7 receptions for 78 yards and 1 TD on 14 targets. That’s a win if there ever was one.

If Murphy has truly made a leap, Wilson is a mid-round gem, and Alford has rejuvenated his career, then the Cardinals should have a top-10 defense. I just need to see a bit more evidence before I can declare that to be the case, however. Brown was banged up, Jones is on the wrong side of 30, and the Titans were breaking in a new OC. Oh, and something about their QB getting sacked 6 times. Maybe this was just a really bad day for the Titans. Let’s see how we do against Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen this week before we make any proclamations.

Verdict: Mirage… for now.

Real or mirage: The Cardinals are the best team in the NFC West.

Wait, who is saying that the Cardinals are the best team in the NFC West? The answer is Cardinals fans. Take a look at this poll from Bickley and Marotta (now airing in the morning!):

I shouldn’t have to say this, but WHOA there, let’s pump the brakes a bit. Yes, the Redbirds absolutely dominated on Sunday, but the rest of the NFC West also won each of their games. The Rams easily disposed of the Bears, the Seahawks beat the Colts convincingly, and the 49ers… well, the 49ers played 3/4s of a good game against the Lions before letting them come back. They also lost several starters, which is par for the course for them. But there’s still a lot of talent on that team. We can’t say anything about the state of the division yet. Let’s get a few division games under our belt first and reassess.

Verdict: Mirage… for now.

Final Thoughts

Let’s make one thing clear: Sunday was a GREAT game and about the best possible start to the season. But, now say it with me, it’s. just. one. game. We don’t want to crown anyone(‘s asses) yet. This team looks primed to make a leap to contention, but a little cautious optimism never hurt anyone. We’ll know a lot more after taking on a talented—and desperate—Vikings squad at home this weekend.

I can’t wait.