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A tale of two halves… and of two Cardinals teams?

It seemed like we saw two different Cardinals teams on Sunday against the Raiders. But the fact is that this Cardinals team has two different sides. But which side is the real Cardinals?

Arizona Cardinals v Las Vegas Raiders
Lord Byron made the play that (may have) saved the Cardinals season on Sunday.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

First Half

Like many of you, I was disgusted with what I was seeing out of the Cardinals in the first half against the Raiders on Sunday. There was a play about halfway through the 2nd quarter where Nick Vigil—not Isaiah Simmons, but Nick Vigil!—was in coverage against Hunter Renfrow. It looked like training camp pitch-and-catch and resulted in an easy 20-yard gain for the Raiders. Nick Vigil on a slot receiver. Gimme a frickin’ break.

I threw my hands up in the air and figured I might as well root for the few Raiders I had scattered around my several fantasy teams. A little Davante Adams here, a little Josh Jacobs there. The Cardinals were toast.

Four plays after that Renfrow reception the Raiders went up 17-0. The Cardinals’ offense had gained 23 yards up to that point, and Kyler threw a pick on the next drive. The Raiders added a FG to go up 20-0 at the half.

This on the heels of the 44-21 trouncing at the hands of the Chiefs in Week 1. Six straight quarters of just godawful football. Ten if you stretch it back to the wild card loss to the Rams. More if you want to delve back into last season’s second-half collapse. (I do not.)

Bad coaching, bad playing, mental errors, bad body language—you name it, the Cardinals looked bad at it. Before the season, I didn’t think this team would be any worse than 7-10, but it was looking like we were gonna lose our first two games by 20+ on the way to a 5-12, 6-11 kind of season, fire everyone at the end. The Cardinals were toast.

Second Half

Then… something happened at halftime. A different team seemingly came out of the locker room. Well, not right away—they opened the second half with a punt after four plays. But then the defense forced a Raider three-and-out on the next possession. The Redbirds responded with an 11-play, 79-yard drive capped with a Kyler to Greg Dortch touchdown. It went like this from there:

  • Raiders FG
  • Cardinals turnover on downs after failing to convert a 4th-and-1 from the Raiders 11
  • Raiders 3-and-out
  • Cardinals touchdown drive—Kyler to Hollywood and then the 20-second 2-point conversion
  • Raiders punt after 5 plays
  • Cardinals touchdown drive—Kyler 3-yard run and then an absolute dart to A.J. Green for the 2-point conversion to tie the game with 00:00 on the clock
  • Cardinals turnover on downs after a perfect 4th-and-1 play call where Kyler hit an open Hollywood Brown down the field… only for a great Raiders hit to jar the ball loose
  • Cardinals game-winning fumble return touchdown from Byron Murphy after Isaiah Simmons—not Nick Vigil, but Isaiah Simmons!—forces a Hunter Renfrow fumble

Talk about a turnaround! Gone was the stumbling, bumbling, inept, rudderless squad, replaced by a seemingly entirely new team. Kliff’s play calls were masterful, Kyler looked like a football wizard out there, Vance Joseph had the defense playing shutdown football, the defensive line was suddenly dominant, etc., etc. This looked more like the team that started last season 10-2, that Michael Bidwill pushed all his chips in on this past offseason with the Kliff and Keim extensions.

Like all of you, I lost my mind when Murphy took that fumble to the house. This new (old) team had saved the season!

Where Do We Go From Here?

But. (And you knew the “but” was coming.)

But this wasn’t a completely new team. The Cardinals that outscored the Raiders 29-3 in the 2nd half are the exact same team who were down 20-0 at halftime, the same Cardinals who got stomped 44-21 in Week 1. And they’re not that much different than the team that got whooped 34-11 in the playoff last year, either.

The “saved the season” Cardinals still struggled mightily on 3rd down, still had two failed 4th-down conversion attempts. They had receivers that couldn’t get open consistently, forcing Kyler to make all those big plays with his feet. They got an unconscionable delay of game penalty before the game-tying 2-point conversion attempt.

For as well as they played in the 2nd half, a LOT still had to go perfectly for the Cardinals to win that game:

They obviously executed as well as possible in those do-or-die situations, but there was more than a little luck involved. This team was disastrously close to an 0-2 start. And at the end of the day, this team is still 1-1 having played 6 quarters of bad football and 2+ of good (okay, nearly perfect) football.

There’s a ton of football left to play this season, and this Raiders win could just as easily be a momentary blip in a bad season as it could be the game that “saved the season.” Which will it be? Which Cardinals team will we see in Week 3 and beyond?

That’s up to Kliff, Kyler, and the rest of the team, of course. But it’s important to keep in mind that the two seemingly different Cardinals teams we’ve seen so far this season are, in fact, the same team. The same Cardinals team that got their butts kicked for 6 quarters is the same team that pulled off that unbelievable upset. This team contains multitudes.

Nothing would surprise me about this team at this point. We might go out and get blown out by the Rams this week—or blow them out and be in 1st place in the NFC West. Either outcome seems about as likely to me.

All of which is to say that this is a team still searching for an identity. Which, when you think about it, is kind of concerning for a team who has had the exact same leadership structure in place for 3+ years now. What kind of team is this 2022 Cardinals team going to be?

The good thing is there’s still plenty of time to find out. Can the good Cardinals, the “saved the season” Cardinals, build on the momentum of their monumental comeback last weekend? Or will the bad Cardinals of the first 1.5 weeks show up? We’ll find out Sunday against the Rams.

The only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain with this team right now. But that’s kind of exciting in its own way, isn’t it?