GLENDALE – They dressed in black, like a team attending a funeral. Maybe even their own.
Instead, the Cardinals delivered a Big Red Reprieve.
Their 42-34 victory over the Saints cooled the seat of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, at least temporarily. They broke through the doldrums that had set in at State Farm Stadium, snapping an embarrassing eight-game losing streak in Glendale. They exceeded the 40-point barrier for the first time since January 2017. They brought real energy and desperation, and the sincerity of effort did not go unnoticed.
Those in attendance responded by giving the Cardinals a standing ovation as they left the field at halftime.
Imagine how good that felt. How sweet that must’ve sounded to a team that has seen their home field become a playground for transients and infidels.
On the brink of chaos, the Cardinals saved a season from spiraling out of control.
“I thought offensively we took some strides today,” quarterback Kyler Murray said.
As expected, the return of DeAndre Hopkins had a profound impact on the offense. He circulated his own hype video on Thursday morning, bringing instant swagger and presence. He was the last player introduced, a curious honor for a player returning from a six-game suspension and yet an honest recognition of what Hopkins means to the success of this team.
He was targeted 14 times. He finished with 10 receptions, exceeding 100 receiving yards for the first time since December 2020.
“You saw it, right?” Kingsbury said. “It’s a different-looking deal out there with him. … It’s good to have him back. “
The Cardinals haven’t had much success in must-win games under Kingsbury, and for a while, this one felt ominous and familiar. Earlier in the week, Kingsbury made headlines when offering to cede his play-calling duties if his bosses deemed it necessary. When Kingsbury called a goal-line fade to Rondale Moore, a 5-foot-7 wide receiver, his growing legion of critics lit up social media. And when the Saints pushed their lead to 14-6, NFL obituaries were being prepared.
That’s when the magic returned to State Farm Stadium.
On the ensuing drive, Hopkins drew a pair of crucial defensive holding penalties while Murray unloaded on Kingsbury following a timeout. With surprising rage, Murray seemed to twice tell his head coach to “calm the (bleep) down.”
Creative tension and sideline confrontations are not uncommon in the alpha world of professional sports. But friction between Murray and Kingsbury has been a recurring theme this season, and Murray’s visceral reaction seemed to raise the temperature for everyone involved.
In a good way.
“It’s just one of those things on the field,” Kingsbury said. “We had a difference of opinion.”
After Murray’s display, the Cardinals responded by tying the game. They scored 14 more points before Murray would touch the football again, courtesy of touchdowns on consecutive interceptions in the span of 74 seconds.
When the smoke had cleared, the Cardinals produced 25 points in the second quarter alone. Just like that, the vibe had returned.
There was an assumption that Sunday’s game in Seattle was going to be their “Get Right” game. Maybe it arrived four days late, against a decimated Saints team, against a quarterback that has lost 12 consecutive primetime starts on the road.
There are still issues with Kingsbury, the gameday operations and his predictable offense. It is incredibly damning that he had months to prepare for the six games without Hopkins, and the head coach brought very little to the table. But there is no denying what we all witnessed on Thursday, and how Hopkins changes the game for Murray and this franchise.
The Cardinals can finally exhale. They’ll enter an extended break with new momentum, with renewed hope that a floundering season has been found in the darkness.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6–10 am on Arizona Sports 98.7.