Like many of you this past Sunday, and one point during the game against the Giants I shouted at the screen, “Come on, Cardinals, don’t blow it!”
But I’m guessing my timing was a bit different than many of you. I yelled this when the Cardinals went up 28-7 about halfway through the third quarter, well before the G-Men started their epic comeback. What was this team doing, trying to WIN a game? In THIS economy?!
I’m being (mostly) facetious here, but I did have a little… internal tension when watching the game. I wouldn’t say I’m fully “fantanking,” where I’m actively rooting against the Cardinals every week. I want the team to play hard, show some life, look better than last year’s squad… but I’m also totally fine if they lose the game. (Surely the Germans have a word for this.)
And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. The Redbirds showed a ton of fight without their two best players on the field (Kyler Murray and Budda Baker), building on the close loss to the Commanders last week. Our scrappy offense and feisty defense seemed to take the Giants by surprise and we looked well on our way to an unexpected first win in the Ossenfort/Gannon era.
It all fell apart, of course. The offense ceased to function and the defense couldn’t make any stops. Josh Dobbs reminded us that he’s Josh Dobbs and Daniel Jones reminded us why he’s a $40M a year man.
Look, this collapse wasn’t *that* shocking. The Giants are a well-coached team who have a ton of continuity from last season (when they made the playoffs and won a game, remember?). The Cardinals have new coaches, new systems on both sides of the ball, and a roster that’s nearly 50% turned over from last season (when they were a putrid 4-13, remember?). The Giants were able to muster a sense of desperation that we just weren’t able to match with this being only the second game most of the team was playing together.
I know: the loss was frustrating. It’s always frustrating when your team collapses like that. (Something Cardinals fans should be used to.) But when Graham Gano’s kick went through the uprights and the Giants completed their comeback, I felt a sense of Zen. This isn’t like last year, when each loss reminded us how far we were from that glorious 10-2 start of 2021. This isn’t even like 2018, when the product on the field was so appalling that each loss felt like another blow to a very, very dead horse.
This year is something different. This year is about looking toward a potentially very bright future. Last year, there was too much uncertainty (would we fire Kliff and Keim? what do we do with Kyler?) to see that future clearly. And in 2018 the franchise was in even worse shape than it is now (remember Steve Wilks and Josh Rosen? Keim’s DUI?). But this year that bright future is shining like a beacon of hope.
How do we get there? Here’s a quick, back-of-the-envelope list of priorities for the Cardinals this season that will set the foundation for the next great Arizona Cardinals team. This season, the Cardinals should focus on:
- Instilling a new franchise culture to move forward from the Kingsbury/Keim era.
- Installing new, more effective schemes on both sides of the ball.
- Developing young players like Trey McBride, Michael Wilson, Paris Johnson Jr., Zaven Collins, Cameron Thomas, BJ Ojulari, Kei’Trel Clark, and others.
- Evaluating veterans to see who fits in the team’s plans moving forward—and who doesn’t.
- Putting an improved product on the field to win back fans after last season’s debacle.
That about sums it up. And you see what’s not on there? Actually winning games! Now, would winning games help with any of the above? Yes and no. Winning would definitely help the culture-building aspect—that can’t be completely ignored. It would also help with winning back fans. But winning games doesn’t really matter when it comes to installing schemes and developing/evaluating players.
And guess what else winning doesn’t help with? Positioning in the 2024 NFL Draft. The “tanking” conversation is one that will rage all season around this team, but, plainly put, the 2023 Arizona Cardinals winning games isn’t in the best interest of the 2024 Arizona Cardinals. It’s ugly, but it’s true. This season was a lost one before the first game was even played—the front office, the coaches, observers and analysts, even (most of) the fans know this. And it’s totally fine! That’s what rebuilding is all about!
Now, will that make this season harder to watch? Will it be as ugly and insufferable as 2018 and 2022?
It depends on your perspective. For me, my optimism for the future won’t be dampened a bit if/when the losses start piling up. We’re 0-2 and I’m feeling fine, baby. Bring on the losses to the Cowboys and 49ers in the next two weeks—0-4 is A-OK with me.
That said… I sure wouldn’t mind a few wins sprinkled in there. Let’s let the 2017 Browns and 2008 Lions keep their ignominious record. I certainly don’t want this team to join the annals of winless pro football teams (a list where the Cardinals do show up a couple times, it must be said). Even my Zen has its limit.
How about you, RotBers? How are you feeling after this strange 0-2 start that was only a handful of plays from being a 2-0 start? Are you feeling fine like me, or are you a purist who wants to just win, baby? Vote in the poll and give us a shout in the comments.
How did you feel after the Cardinals big second-half collapse against the Giants?
This poll is closed
Totally gutted; what a horrible loss
Disappointed; we should have won that game
Ambivalent; playing hard is all that matters this season
Encouraged; we lost but we look better than last year
Just fine; it’s not necessarily bad that we lost