GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jonathan Gannon stood on the Arizona sideline with hands locked on his hips. The Cardinals were down to their final play. A desperation heave from beyond midfield.
Once it fell incomplete, finalizing a difficult 31-28 loss to the New York Giants, Gannon walked onto the field, congratulated Giants coach Brian Daboll and began a long walk back to the locker room. Asked later what was going through his mind, Gannon put the blame on himself.
“We got to coach better,” he said.
Fans here have a haunting mental rolodex of the worst Arizona losses they have witnessed in State Farm Stadium. There was the Monday night meltdown to the Chicago Bears in 2006, one that prompted Dennis Green’s memorable “Crown ‘em!” rant. There was Kurt Warner’s fumbled snap a few games before that, which cost Arizona a possible winning field-goal attempt that would’ve beaten the Rams.
Then there was Sunday. Maybe not on the same jaw-dropping level, but close.
Across the NFL, the talk will focus on the Giants, rallying from a 20-0 halftime deficit and a 28-7 third-quarter hole after such a putrid start to the season. In the desert, however, the conversation will take a different tone. How can a team look so good in the first half only to crumble so spectacularly in the second?
The Giants, who mustered 81 yards in the first half, collected 358 in the second. A team that had not scored a point in six quarters scored on all five possessions in the final two. Quarterback Daniel Jones did mostly as he pleased, finding open receivers. The Cardinals dropped to 0-2.
“Exactly what we couldn’t do to lose that game coming out of halftime we did,’’ Gannon said. “And when that is the case, that is on me explicitly.”
In his first season, Gannon has shown enthusiasm and passion, but he can be difficult to read. With quarterback Kyler Murray sidelined, recovering from ACL surgery, his return unknown, no one expects much from the Cardinals. And with Arizona set up for the 2024 draft, owning not only its first-round pick but Houston’s as well, a lot of folks here are OK with that. It’s a fine big-picture view.
But that doesn’t give Gannon and his staff a free pass. In addition to Gannon, offensive coordinator Drew Petzing is a first-time play-caller. Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis is the youngest at his position in the NFL. Credibility is at stake. Building culture and setting a foundation are essential items on the rebuild to-do list, but so, too, is knowing how to win. Losing winnable contests chips away at public trust.
And Arizona, an organization with one playoff appearance in seven seasons, didn’t have much to begin with.
“We just kind of let off the gas a little bit,” safety Jalen Thompson said. “Against NFL teams in general, you can’t do that at all.”
“You’re disappointed because they couldn’t move the ball at all in the first half,” linebacker Kyzir White said.
The Cardinals looked so good in the first half it allowed fans to reconsider this season’s expectations. “If Josh Dobbs passes like this … If the defense continues on this path …” Maybe the Cardinals can steal a couple games. And then once Murray returns, maybe this season shifts from lost cause into something not so lost.
In a Week 1 loss at Washington, the Cardinals did not score an offensive touchdown — Dobbs averaged 4.4 yards per attempt — but they still had a chance to win, leading 16-10 entering the fourth quarter. Against the Giants, Dobbs had completions of 21, 23, 14, 14 and 22 yards in the first half. He also had a 23-yard scramble to the end zone, running over Giants safety Xavier McKinney along the way. Acquired in an Aug. 24 trade, Dobbs looked energized.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) September 17, 2023
The defense, playing without star safety Budda Baker, out with a hamstring issue, was even better, holding the Giants to five first downs. But on the first play of the second half, Jones found receiver Jalin Hyatt for 58 yards down the middle. New York scored two plays later and momentum shifted. Arizona’s defense couldn’t get off the field. Late in the game, the Cardinals looked worn out.
“We ain’t making no excuses,’’ White said. “We’re out there — go get a stop. It don’t matter if we’re out there a lot or not. Let’s go make a play, a turnover. Do something.”
Over two weeks, the Cardinals have been outscored 41-11 in the second half. The upside: They have plenty of time to figure it out. But they cannot afford to throw away opportunities such as Sunday’s.
“As we all saw, it’s finishing,” said Dobbs, who completed 21 of 31 for 228 yards and a touchdown in his fourth career start. “Games are going to go down to the final minute, so you got to lock in for 60 minutes and finish. That will be our next step of growth.”
The unyielding mind and approach of Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck
(Photo of Jonathan Gannon: Norm Hall / Getty Images)