“The worst offensive performance for the Arizona Cardinals since 1955.”
In a season seemingly full of low points, Arizona proved for maybe the first time this season that being a “bad, but competitive” team might indeed be giving some credence to the idea of tanking.
Not in terms of the season...but in terms of sacrificing a game? There’s no other explanation.
Arizona mustered 58 yards on 48 plays and starting a 5th round rookie on the road against the #1 defense in the National Football League went...about as poorly as expected.
Tune was sacked 7 times, threw two interceptions and the Browns’ offense struggled but not enough as Arizona was shut out on the road and looked totally helpless. And the reason for that?
They waved the white flag before they ever set foot onto the field.
And honestly...I don’t know if I can fault the Cardinals for doing so.
Without Josh Dobbs it was painfully obvious that the Cardinals were NOT putting their best onto the field so long as Kyler Murray was “healthy” but...inactive.
And it wasn’t just him.
No Emari Demarcado or Michael Wilson. Left Guard 1 on IR, LG2 out and DJ Humphries battled through an injury only for him and James Conner and Zach Ertz on IR.
To top it all off, Dobbs had an inspirational comeback despite barely setting foot as a Viking and demonstrating the gulf between what he brought to Arizona’s roster and where Minnesota’s roster stands this season...even without a Justin Jefferson.
The goal for Arizona this year has been consistent:
- be scrappy like the Dan Campbell Detroit Lions
- lose games, but be competitive
- play hard & try to win the game even if you don’t stand a chance
Today they played like the tanking team that national media has called them. Uninspired from everything from playcalling to effort (not you Dante Stills, you’re great) and the team and its QB looked like both a cause and victim of a BAD football team.
Up until this point, things had been a bit acceptable for Arizona.
In some ways, they still are.
But the culture change that Jonathan Gannon and Monti Ossenfort have been trying to build took a sizeable hit today because, as Herm Edwards would say “you play to WIN the game”.
Them trading away Josh Dobbs and NOT starting the better Quarterback on their roster...can’t be called that.
They didn’t play to lose.
But they didn’t play to compete.
And in the long-run, it might be that it’s better overall. After all—if Kyler Murray had gone out there and gotten shellacked for 4 sacks, two interceptions and looked bad with no James Conner?
Cardinals fans would be abandoning ship so quickly that State Farm Stadium might be home to more Halloween ghosts than to True-bled Birdgang members.
What the Cardinals did here was essentially take a loss (tank) to attempt to set up a future victory. Essentially a “gambit”.
Sort of fitting for a coach named Gannon, I guess. Gannon’s gambit.
It’s clear that the stakes are set for an incredibly important game next week against the Atlanta Falcons & rolling out the red carpet for Kyler Murray to make a triumphant return.
Against a top defense on the road without James Conner?
- An extra week of practice (and throwing to the 1’s, obviously)
- No road travel to a difficult environment
- Facing a defense that’s ranked top 10 (but not top overall) with an offense that’s in the bottom 1/3rd of the league
- A raucous home crowd excited to see #1 playing again
- James Conner eligible to come off of injured reserve, and the likely return of Emari Demarcado or at least Michael Wilson
It all sets up as a giant wave of positive momentum to give Arizona the BEST chance they might have to get a win and break their 6 game losing streak. Riding the tide of goodwill from Murray’s return like a surfer on a tidal wave.
But this comes with a caveat.
There’s a LOT of pressure on this game now.
Imagine that you’ve built up everything to this point as a team trying to build a culture of winning, and you’ve tossed that away for one game SPECIFICALLY for the point of being sure that you can lose a game this week to go out and rally the troops behind your franchise QB’s return a week from now.
...What happens if you don’t win against the Falcons?
If you had Kyler out there today, or even if you had Josh Dobbs still to put up a respectable (if bad) stat line in a loss, the idea of Arizona as a team moving closer and closer to a competitor would have remained intact for players and fans.
You would have accepted “Hey Kyler’s back and they were gonna be bad but you can’t say that they’re out there trying to lose games.”
That’s not quite true after Sunday.
And now there’s so much pressure on a quarterback in Kyler Murray who, to this point, has reportedly looked amazing in practice but is coming off of an injury and, unlike Josh Dobbs, now has the weight of expectations.
A weight of, essentially, having to not just saving the Cardinals’ season but the weight of this regime. Jonathan Gannon and Monti Ossenfort either decided to hold off on playing Murray OR Kyler himself didn’t want to go against the Browns versus the Falcons and as a result...it’s a very dramatic and different outcome.
Win against the Falcons?
Everything feels justified. The losing? Dealing Dobbs away, starting Tune and even the entire offseason suddenly paints a picture of a team that acknowledged that they were going to take a hard fall....but that Kyler Murray and a plethora of talent & high draft picks could then lift the franchise back up.
Suddenly fans could look forward to a possible win or two the rest of the season, celebrate the end of a losing streak and feel optimism for the future.
A loss against the Falcons?
Man...if you’ve bet the house on Kyler & Conner’s return and all that goodwill leaves the building with a loss (much less a depressing one given how Josh Dobbs gave you close losses) it might send the season into a spiral.
Lose at home to the Falcons with James Conner and Kyler Murray and suddenly fans will look at Arizona less like a team treading water for a year and more like a sinking ship.
Perhaps it’s something that fans have to come to grips with, regardless.
Maybe this is all simply what people say it is: the Cardinals are a bad team that doesn’t believe in Kyler any more than simply trying to rehab his image, trade him elsewhere and start over with the #1 pick and all of this has been simply conjecture.
Like the band striking up a song as the Titanic goes down sinking, it would feel cheap to fans and almost like a bait and switch. To build expectations of “we’ll rally around Kyler and he’s our franchise guy” when the reality has always been an impending divorce.
That’s what’s at stake next sunday.
Call it what you will—a marriage retreat or a nexus point for the Cardinals or perhaps even the “point of no return”.
A win will go a long way in selling the team and fans on a team that can compete rather than one that’s blowing games to get a new quarterback and will be selling seats for 2025 and 2026 and beyond. They might be doing that anyway.
But Arizona’s taken all of their chips and pushed them in on Kyler Murray’s return next week.
And you have to wonder with 3/5th’s of their offensive line ailing whether what they’re asking from their quarterback, coming off an ACL, might be in fact, too much.
Clayton Tune was asked to do far far too much against the Browns today. And if Murray isn’t able to rise to the lofty expectations that have been set out for him, then maybe it’s time for Arizona to lock the door, throw away the key on winning this season and take a new strategy.
And when it comes to the cards they’ve been dealt they might have no choice but to fold & look at quarterbacks and a much longer path back.
But the confidence that fans had?
It might be shattered. For a while, at least.
Cause trust is broken as it’s easily gained (See: the Cowboys win) and with radio callers discussing how the team “was worse than under Steve Wilks”.
And the last thing Cardinals fans want is to see doubt on this regime for the now and future of their franchise.